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The Informed Parent

Will My Kid Develop An Eating Disorder?

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Sep. 21, 2009

You have all heard of the dreaded eating disorders of anorexia and bulimia. As your child approaches the teenage years, should you be concerned that she will acquire one of these disorders?

What are the risk factors that might determine whether a child will develop an eating disorder? According to the JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY issued August 2009, there appears to be specific risk factors involved in predicting a future eating disorder.

Eating disorders are characterized by severe disturbances in eating behaviors and over concern with body weight and shape. The onset typically begins with adolescence. Eating disorders generally include anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. There also is a heterogeneous diagnosis of a nonspecific eating disorder. Prevalence rates run from approximately one-to-four percent. Eating disorders are often difficult to treat and usually have a chronic and relapsing course. They also have an increased mortality risk.

Recent studies have concluded that the female sex, early feeding or under-eating problems, or maternal depressive symptoms have predicted a later course of anorexia nervosa. Higher self-esteem and higher body mass index conferred later protection. Also, another study found that being perceived as overweight by one’s parents increased a risk for eating disorder pathology.

Further study needs to be done to incorporate other variables in determining risk factors for eating disorders, such as environmental and biological factors. Based on this preliminary evidence, however, prevention can now be done to improve early feeding or eating interactions and to begin parent education regarding healthy child weight ranges. See you pediatrician if you have any questions.

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