Consultant and leading expert on eating disorders in children at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, Dr. Lee Hudson, discusses why it is important for children to eat correctly and why eating disorders can be damaging to growing children.
“Childhood is a time of development and children need food to help them develop correctly. Anything that affects their food intake can have irreversible affects to their bodies in the long run,” says Dr. Hudson. Understanding and being aware of potentially damaging food disorders is important for parents to keep their children healthy, he adds.
Eating disorders affect 70 million individuals worldwide and 90 percent who have eating disorders are females between the age of 12 and 25. Eating disorders cover a range of different disorders which are characterised by abnormal eating habits. ‘Disordered eating’ is where someone may not be eating as regularly or properly as they should be. This is something shared by a lot of people through their lifetimes but is not the same, or as dangerous, as an eating disorder, which is linked to mental health problems.
A recent case study conducted in Kuwait showed that 44.7 percent of adolescents in Kuwait suffered from disordered eating. While there are many different types of eating disorders, perhaps the most common are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.
Anorexia Nervosa is a condition where a person who is actually thin believes they are fat and have a drive to continually lose weight. “People suffering from anorexia may in fact be very thin but will believe that they are fat. There are several medical complications linked to Anorexia Nervosa because people can become so underweight that they can literally starve to death. When a child becomes underweight they become malnourished and it can cause permanent damage to their bodies. This is especially the case in children and young adults affected with the disease, as it can affect their growth, development and affect long-term health, such the health of their bones,” said Dr. Hudson.
Young women with anorexia are 12 times more likely to die than other women the same age without the condition and 20 percent of people suffering from anorexia will die prematurely from complications arising from their disorder, including suicide and heart problems.
Bulimia Nervosa is another common eating disorder where the sufferer has a distorted body image. “With Bulimia Nervosa there is guilt associated with eating, and people will often ‘binge eat’ (over-eat) and then ‘purge’ (throw up) afterwards. Most people with bulimia are either at a normal weight or overweight. They will be very unhappy about their eating and body. People with bulimia can have medical problems linked to their frequent vomiting such as dental issues related to the erosion of enamel from vomiting and malnutrition which can cause lasting effects as a child,” said Dr. Hudson.
“Growth can be severely affected when children are underweight or starving and this can be irreversible. Keeping children healthy is important for their health now and in the future. Most parents will be aware when children are losing weight at a significant rate and not eating enough. What is harder to notice is when children become underweight or overweight because this can be gradual. This is why health checks for children can be helpful. Weight loss can happen for a range of reasons, and is not just linked to eating disorders, so if you are worried about your child’s weight you should seek the advice of a medical professional. The earlier weight loss is noticed the sooner the reasons behind the weight loss can be understood and interventions put into place before the effects become irreversible and the condition harder to treat,” warned Dr. Hudson.
Dr. Lee Hudson is a consultant in general paediatrics at Great Ormond Street Hospital, who specialises in medical complications involved with eating and feeding disorders, obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome and general paediatric conditions in infants, children and young people. He qualified from Sheffield University and undertook specialist training as a general paediatrician in Australia and the UK. He is also an executive member of the International Association of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s Young People’s Health Special Interest Group.