BOOSTING KIDS’ BODY IMAGE
Eating disorders in children and teens are on the rise, but there are steps you can take
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.”
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 bodyandsoul.com.au