Urgent action has been demanded in order to better detect eating disorders in children in the wake of a new study which lifted the lid on anorexia and bulimia among youngsters aged under 13.
According to a new study in the British Journal of Psychiatry, roughly three in 100,000 under-13s in the UK and Ireland have an eating disorder of some kind. Looking at the phenomenon over a 14-month period, researchers from University College London's Institute of Child Health examined data from hospitals, universities, paediatricians and psychiatrists to establish a picture of eating issues in youngsters.
There were 208 cases of 'early-onset' disorders confirmed during the study, 82% of which were attached to girls, 18% hitting boys. A total of 37% of the children were anorexic, while 1% either had bulimia or were over-eating. Another 43% were found to have an eating disorder of some kind.
Meanwhile the other 19% had 'disordered eating' symptoms, but did not suffer from any obsession with weight or body shape. Around 96% avoided food, while 84% were recorded as having a "morbid preoccupation with food".
Seventy-one percent feared they would put on weight, 67% were "preoccupied" with weight, while 51% worried about body shape and 43% undertook excessive levels of exercise. Some children made themselves sick, were binge-eaters or used laxatives. Child psychiatrist Dr Dasha Nicholls said: "Our study shows there is an urgent need to consider the needs of children with eating disorders separately - and not simply lower the age range of existing adolescent services."