In an obese world, children obsessed with thinness

A new acronym to add to the growing list of childhood disorders: EOED, which stands for “early onset eating disorder” and generally refers to anorexia among pre-adolescent children. Australian research shows that the condition, commonly linked to teenage girls, is showing up more and more among girls and boys aged 10 to 12, and even younger.

The study, which included a five-year-old with the potentially fatal condition, uncovered 101 cases among children up to age 13, between 2002 and 2005. Researcher Sloane Madden says demand for critical care beds at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney for children with EOED has surged 50 per cent during that time.

"What we are seeing clinically, and what is being reported anecdotally around the world is that kids are presenting in greater numbers at a younger age,'' he said.

It was not just a case of the children being fussy eaters, said the Westmead-based child psychiatrist, as speaking to the children revealed a desire to be "thinner''.

"They certainly will tell you that they believe that they are fat, that they want to be thinner, and they have no insight into the fact that they are malnourished and they are literally starving themselves to death,'' he says.

Early diagnosis gives children a good chance of full recovery, adds Dr Madden.

What’s behind this trend? Dr Madden puts it down to the media’s obsession with fat and weight, especially in so-called “reality” shows. But there is also a lot of reporting on the obesity issue, and apparently a bit of harping on the subject in schools. Comments on the report suggest it is time to cut out the obesity talk and simply encourage healthy behaviour -- like “running around all day” so that it doesn’t matter what a child eats because it gets burned off.

There’s a deeper issue, though: a focus on the self that has been building for several decades and probably owes something to small families and over-solicitous parents who want to give their children everything -- except the opportunity to forget themselves and look after others.



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