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Too young to suffer: CT children as young as 10 suffering from eating disorders

An article appearing Aug. 11 in the New Haven Register shows that in Connecticut, children as young as 10 years-old are suffering from eating disorders. This is a concerning trend that has been seen nationally, but at a local level it prompts efforts to respond as a state in order to reduce the rate of eating disorders and prevent the development of a chronic mental disorder from a young age.

Dr. Diane Mickley, the founder and director of the Wilkins Center for Eating Disorders in Greenwich, CT has reported that she used to see teenagers as young as 13 or 14 with eating disorders, but that has now dropped to children as young as 10. Mickley was also the founder and past president of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and is therefore all too familiar with the more recent trend towards youth sufferers.

The Center for Discovery in Fairfield County was created in 2011 to meet this growing concern, containing two adolescent treatment centers that serve youth aged 11 to 17. However, the founder and CEO states that "we've been getting calls throughout the years that have progressively involved younger and younger children." It seems like it will only be a matter of time before the center will have to dip its age limit below 11.

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that from 2009 to 2011, the number of young teens and Hispanic teens, in particular, engaging in disordered eating has risen considerably. The CDC also shows that:

  • Nearly 18 percent of ninth-grade girls surveyed in 2011 (compared to 12.2 percent in 2009) indicated they had not eaten for 24 or more hours during the previous 30 days due to weight considerations.
  • Food restriction rates were higher for Hispanic teens (11.9 percent) compared to their African American (8.4 percent) and white (8 percent) peers in grades nine through 12 in 2011.
  • The rate of food restriction among Hispanic male teens grades nine through 12 was 13.3 percent in 2011, up from 10.1 percent in 2009. Hispanic male teens were more likely to restrict food than Hispanic female teens (10.1 percent) in 2011 — an inverse of national statistics showing females are more likely to engage in disordered eating than males.

These statistics are worrisome, since eating disorders are secretive diseases and can often remain undetected, especially in populations where society does not expected to find high rates. Minorities, children, and males used to be incorrectly assumed to be less susceptible to the pressures of weight loss and body image disturbance, but experts are beginning to realize and rectify the damage that this fallacy can have.

In order to adequately address and prevent eating disorders at a younger age, both in Connecticut and nationally, stronger public health measures will have to be implemented. Screening for eating disorders in schools might be one option, as well as training pediatricians on signs of eating disorders in order to ensure at-risk children are being identified and receiving treatment early. Eating disorders can become chronic with high relapse rates, so we must do everything in our power to prevent our youth from a lifetime of struggle with these serious diseases.

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