Spotting An Eating Disorder

By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter
By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter

Knoxville (WVLT) - We as a society are increasingly focused on the growing number of overweight children in this country, but now is also the time to be concerned about your children becoming underweight.

In this week's Healthy Tennessean, Medical Reporter Jessa Goddard has more on the reasons why and what you should look for.

It's a little known fact among parents, but common knowledge in the medical community, that this is the time of year when many children develop eating disorders, because going back to school can aggravate the social pressures to be perfect.

Into their second week of class at Berean Christian School, eighth grader Alaina Darby says she and her classmates are still catching up with one another.

"Just like how our summers went and how our vacations were, things like that." She and her friends also talk about the typical things eighth grade girls talk about, "I guess stars and like boys."

While Alaina says she and her friends don't feel the pressure to be perfect, there is a segment of students, mostly girls, for whom heading back to school isn't spent studying and socializing, but comparing themselves to others.

Doctor Heather Edgley says that can aggravate back to school eating disorders. "To start looking at themselves, looking at their bodies and comparing them with everyone else they see, everybody they see in magazines and everyone they see in movies and on television."

It's no longer a just a problem among teenagers, eating disorders are now showing up in children as young as eight or nine, obsessing about food, counting calories and fat grams and exercising excessively.

While parents may not notice weight loss right away, Doctor Edgely says these are some of the behaviors that should send up a red flag.

"They have food avoidance, or maybe they have food preoccupation. Maybe they're calorie counting very severely or they'll claim that they've already eaten when the family is sitting down for a meal, or 'I'm not hungry,'" says Dr. Edgely.

If your child is exhibiting any of these behaviors, approach the issue delicately, because most people with an eating disorder will deny they have a problem.

Doctor Edgely says three patients were admitted to East Tennessee Children's Hospital last week with complications due to eating disorders, that's well above average.

Eating disorder patients that require hospitalization are usually in the more advanced stages, 15% below their normal body weight, or suffering from electrolyte or cardiac abnormalities.


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