Eating Disorders Rise in Children 12 and Younger

Between 1999 and 2006, hospitalizations for eating disorders in children 12 and younger rose 119 percent, according to a 2010 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

An international center for eating disorders recovery is urging parents to take preventive measures at home to stop eating disorders before they start.

"While clinicians have yet to identify the absolute keys to preventing eating disorders, we do know that positive parental involvement and heightened awareness can help foster the development of healthy relationships among children, their bodies and food," explains Ovidio Bermudez, MD, FAAP, FSAHM, FAED, CEDS, medical director of child and adolescent services at Eating Recovery Center in Sacramento, California.

Here are 10 tips from the Eating Recovery Center:

1. Understand your own feelings and attitudes toward body image, body size, weight and health.

2. Model healthy attitudes and behaviors toward eating, exercise, body weight and shape and self-acceptance. Children will often mirror their parents' thoughts and actions surrounding these issues.

3. Educate yourself about the complex nature of eating disorders. An informed parent is more aware and more likely to notice early warning signs or concerning behaviors.

4. Help your child manage stress. Reduce complexity in your child's life to prevent or relieve anxiety and fear, which may lead to disordered eating in children who are particularly vulnerable to stress.

5. Focus on eating at ease during mealtimes. Promoting the social value of mealtimes strengthens family ties and relationships. Stressful, tense eating situations are counterproductive in efforts to develop healthy patterns around food consumption.

6. Maintain open lines of communication. Interaction is the antidote for the isolation and secretiveness that can sometimes allow a child to transition negative beliefs and attitudes into disordered eating behaviors.

7. Examine your child's dieting and exercise habits. From a neurochemical perspective, these are not always benign activities. With the help of a medical professional, explore whether weight loss or increased exercise are healthy choices that support normal growth and development.

8. Monitor the beliefs and attitudes of your child's friends. Children are eager to fit in and will often mimic their friends' attitudes and behaviors -- even those that are negative and potentially destructive.

9. Watch your child's technology use. Websites and social media create a sense of "community" in which your child can learn about and compete at disordered eating behaviors. Studies have shown that both pro-eating disorder and pro-recovery online messages have risks to impressionable young minds.

10. Be aware of anxiety and depression, and seek care if your child shows signs of these conditions. The negative self image that is often associated with these conditions can lead to efforts to manage emotional insecurities via dieting and exercise.
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