Eating Disorders Can Start in Elementary School, Study Shows

In recent years we’ve heard a lot about childhood obesity. Now, a new report says eating disorders like bulimia can start very early on — perhaps even in elementary school.

The report comes from the Universite de Montreal, where researchers examined just over 200 children aged eight to twelve, all diagnosed with eating disorders. The researchers found that about 15 percent of the children occasionally made themselves throw up, while 13 percent reported bulimic-like behavior. An incredibly 52 percent had been hospitalized at least once as a result of their eating disorder, while just under half had received outpatient treatment as a result of these disorders.

The report is expected to change how medical professionals think about eating disorders like bulimia.

“Many researchers believe that bulimia only appears at adolescence, but our (findings) indicate that the problem can arise much earlier,” noted the study’s lead author, Dominique Meilleur, a clinical psychologist. “It is possible that it is currently under-diagnosed due to a lack of awareness and investigation.”

The report also revealed that more than one-third of the children under evaluation came from families with psychiatric problems, including anxiety and mood disorders.

Another one in four said they had been openly mocked or teased about their appearance, a factor that intensified the eating disorder. Meilleur said this bullying “can initiate or reinforce body image preoccupations” and can eventually “lead to a change in eating behavior.”

Overall, it’s clear that body image issues start much earlier than high school. “These behaviors reflect the clinical presentations we observe in adolescents and support findings that body image is a preoccupation for some children as early as elementary school,” Meilleur said.


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