WHY ARE CHILDREN AT RISK FOR DISORDERED EATING THIS YEAR?

Eating difficulties in children and teens have become more prevalent over the last decade. We are seeing a particular increase in disordered eating in children under the age of 13 (HSC data, 2015). School curricula are promoting “healthier” eating, starting at the elementary school level. Teachers often instruct children and teens how to read and decipher food labels (mainly for fat, carbs and sugar), count calories, and decide which foods are “good” and “bad” for their health. For some children, this is a harmless exercise. For others, it can lead to the development of an eating disorder. This is especially true in children and teens who may already suffer from anxiety.

Food allergies in children have also increased significantly. According to the CDC, food allergies among children have increased by approximately 50% over the last 15 years. There is no explanation for this recent increase. The rise in food allergies has also contributed to a rise in food-related anxiety. Unlike more common eating disorders, children with food allergies may lose weight, or fail to grow, due to fear of eating foods that could be linked to a potential allergic reaction. Children with food allergies often narrow their range of food choices, even when such restrictions are unnecessary. This can lead to the development of disordered eating.

Finally, the use of social media has become a new tool for body-related teasing, social comparison, and the proliferation of APPS used to calculate calorie input and activity output. Self-worth is often determined by how many “likes” ones receives on instagram. Children and teens relate to and communicate with others through social media on a minute-to minute-basis. The widespread use of social media may put pressure on children and teens to look and behave in a way that will be approved or “liked” by others. It is not surprising that the majority of adolescent girls are dissatisfied with their bodies. At any given time, nearly half of them are trying to lose weight. While approximately 3% develop anorexia or bulimia, up to 15% have significant levels of disordered eating (AED, 2015).