Eat­ing dis­or­ders in chil­dren and teens are on the rise, but there are steps you can take

Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - B+S PARENTING - WITH FIONA BAKER

Mums and dads have read the scary sto­ries about eat­ing dis­or­ders in chil­dren and ado­les­cents and how the rate is grow­ing alarm­ingly, so what role can par­ents play in help­ing their chil­dren feel good about their bod­ies?

A vi­tal one, says Christine Mor­gan, CEO of The But­ter­fly Foun­da­tion, a char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion that sup­ports eat­ing dis­or­der suf­fer­ers and their car­ers.

“Pos­i­tive lan­guage, at­ti­tudes and ac­tions about body im­age by par­ents, ex­tended fam­ily and friends can play a cru­cial role in a child’s healthy attitude to their body,” she says. “There are a num­ber of pres­sures within our so­ci­ety that help cre­ate poor body im­age, and par­ents need to be mind­ful of ev­ery­day talk in the home about food, body shape and self-es­teem.”

Scary sta­tis­tics

NSW’s largest eat­ing dis­or­ders clinic, at The Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal at West­mead, re­cently re­ported a 270 per cent in­crease in the num­ber of chil­dren be­ing ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal in the past decade for eat­ing dis­or­ders such as anorexia nervosa, bu­limia and binge eat­ing.

The Syd­ney clinic also re­ported the ages of chil­dren seek­ing help were fall­ing, with chil­dren as young as four pre­sent­ing with eat­ing dis­or­ders.

Re­search sug­gests the preva­lence of eat­ing dis­or­ders in Aus­tralian ado­les­cent girls jumped from 10 per cent in 2000 to 18 per cent in 2006 – which means about one in five teenage girls try to lose weight through dan­ger­ous be­hav­iours such as not eat­ing for days, tak­ing lax­a­tives and in­duc­ing vom­it­ing.

The rate of eat­ing dis­or­ders in boys is also grow­ing; one in four chil­dren with anorexia is male.

What par­ents can do

It’s un­der­stand­able that in to­day’s so­ci­ety many par­ents are con­fused about how to help pre­vent their kids de­vel­op­ing an eat­ing dis­or­der. It seems ironic that as obe­sity sta­tis­tics rise, so do the num­bers of young Aus­tralians be­ing di­ag­nosed with eat­ing dis­or­ders.

Mor­gan says poor body im­age is one of the strong­est risk fac­tors in de­vel­op­ing an eat­ing dis­or­der. A Mis­sion Aus­tralia sur­vey last Novem­ber found body im­age was the lead­ing per­sonal concern of the 50,000plus young peo­ple sur­veyed.

Mor­gan says: “The strong­est and most ef­fec­tive way par­ents can de­liver a bal­anced and pos­i­tive mes­sage around body im­age is by role mod­el­ling healthy be­hav­iours. Chil­dren learn more from what par­ents do than what par­ents say.”

She says par­ents shouldn’t have scales in the house.

“Par­ents’ talk about their own body im­age in front of fam­ily and friends is an­other way of fos­ter­ing a pos­i­tive body im­age in their chil­dren. Par­ents [should] en­cour­age their chil­dren to fo­cus on the body’s func­tions and its unique­ness rather than its looks. How we think and feel is far more im­por­tant.”

Learn about the warn­ing signs of an eat­ing dis­or­der and where to get help in Fiona Baker’s ar­ti­cle at bodyand­

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