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When Childhood Obesity is Not Your Problem

With rising obesity rates in children and teens in the U.S., the opposite problem, children losing too much weight, may not be considered a major concern. However, anorexia nervosa rates have also been rising, since 1930, and can ruin a child’s health for the long-term if not caught and treated quickly. 

What is anorexia nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is diagnosed as self-starvation to keep body weight abnormally low, below the minimum recommended weight for a child’s age, sex, height, development stage and overall health. Anorexia nervosa is the most deadly of all all psychiatric disorders. 

Who is most likely to develop anorexia nervosa ?
Teenage girls are most at risk of developing anorexia nervosa and it’s the most common cause of hospital admissions in teen girls. However, in recent years it has become more and more prevalent in adolescent boys as well, as society continues to idolize thinness. Adolescents overall are at higher risk of developing anorexia nervosa as puberty can cause obsession with normal body changes and peer pressure factors. 

While anorexia nervosa was historically diagnosed in upper and upper middle class teens, that is also changing. The disorder is now identified in all socioeconomic, ethnic and racial groups. 

Kids who may develop anorexia nervosa usually exhibit:

  • Perfectionism traits
  • Obsessive compulsive traits
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Sensitivity to peer pressure

Involvement with these sports and activities may also be a factor in the development of anorexia nervosa:

  • Ballet
  • Bodybuilding
  • Cheerleading
  • Figure Skating
  • Gymnastics
  • Modeling 
  • Wrestling
  • Competitive Equine Sports

When should parents be concerned?
Make an appointment with us immediately if your child is:

  • Suddenly losing weight
  • Skipping meals or refusing to eat at meals
  • Cooking large meals for family, but not eating themselves
  • Eating only “safe” foods that are low in calories and fat
  • Not eating in public
  • Spitting food out after chewing it
  • Frequent weighing or measuring of their body
  • Frequent checking in the mirror
  • Complaining about being fat or body size
  • Wearing layers of clothing inappropriate for the weather

What happens to my child’s body as anorexia nervosa develops?
First, there will be an extreme weight loss. Your child will be tired, experience insomnia, dizziness or fainting and dehydration. Parents may notice hair loss or breakage, bluish color in the fingertips and soft, downy hair on arms and legs. 

As anorexia nervosa progresses, your child will experience loss of menses, constipation, abdominal pain and can’t handle cold. Their skin will become yellow and dry, blood pressure will drop and their heart will develop an irregular rhythm. If your child is vomiting to bring up any food, teeth will begin to deteriorate. 

If left untreated, anorexia nervosa causes death from abnormal heart rhythms, electrolyte imbalance, heart failure or kidney failure. There is also a substantial risk of substance abuse, self-harm and suicide. 

How is anorexia nervosa treated?
Prompt diagnosis and treatment is critical to recovery. Your child’s treatment team will include behavioral health specialists and dietitians who will provide mental health therapy and nutritional education. 

Anorexia nervosa requires long term treatment and support to prevent relapse, with an average of six years from diagnosis to recovery. 

If you see signs your child is not eating as they should, click here or call our office at 203-229-2000 immediately. When parents and your TCFAP medical professionals quickly intervene in suspected anorexia nervosa cases, your child will have a supportive path forward to a life time of healthy eating habits and positive body image. We are here to help.