Concerned About Your Child’s Eating? Eating Disorders Among Young Children and Teens

Picture of a girl with fear of gaining weightAs a parent, you hope that you will not need to address the topic of eating disorders with your child; however, many parents are forced to confront their child’s diagnosis with this illness. All parents should be aware of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and provide a stable and supportive environment for those who may be suffering with this illness.

Eating disorders can affect everyone and have, increasingly, become more common among younger children and adolescents. One study revealed 42% of first through third graders wanted to be thin, while 81% of 10-year-old girls were afraid of becoming fat (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). The disease is complex and never the choice of the individual because the individual is  influenced by biological, psychological, and social elements (Dawson, 2017). Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, and physical health complications often arise from the restrictive or purging behaviors in which individuals with eating disorders engage (Dawson, 2018).  In addition, having an eating disorder can lead one to commit suicide (Dawson, 2017).

There are warning signs that you can detect if your child has an eating disorder. A few of those warning signs include changes in food rituals, not eating foods he or she once enjoyed, avoiding family meal gatherings, eating in secret, constant obsession with food and calorie intake, fear of being fat, purging, excessive use of laxatives, and excessive exercising (Dawson, 2017). If you suspect your child may be suffering with an eating disorder, talk with a medical professional immediately, so your child can receive adequate care. For resources that explain the different types of eating disorders; contain advice for parents; and educate on the signs, diagnoses, and recovery processes for eating disorders, check out the parent toolkit from the National Eating Disorders Association at


Dawson, R. (2018). Eating Disorders in Children and Adolescents. Pediatric Annals, 47(6), e230-e231. doi: 10.3298/19382359-20180523-01

Dawson, R. S. (2017). Addressing eating disorders and weight control in children and adolescents. Pediatric Annals, 46(5), e176. doi:10.3928/19382359-20170424-01

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention MMWA Surveillance Summaries. (2015). Youth risk behavior surveillance, United States. data/yrbs/pdf/2015/ss6506_updated.pdf

National Eating Disorders Association (December 11, 2018). Retrieved from

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