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Anorexia in Childhood

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Food is something everyone thinks about on a daily basis. "What am I going to have for dinner?" "That ice cream really looks good!" But what happens when these thoughts become more obsessive and affect daily life? This may be the sign of an eating disorder. Eating disorders currently affect between five and ten million people in the United States. Of these people, three to six million suffer from anorexia nervosa (Kittleson 15). Anorexia is a dangerous disease that is becoming increasingly popular in children and adolescents. In fact, eight six percent of eating disorders occur by the age of twenty, with ten percent beginning in children under the age of ten (Strada 10). By examining the affects and causes of anorexia, parents can learn to be aware of the disease and even prevent it form occurring in the first place.

Anorexia nervosa is defined as "self-imposed starvation that occurs when someone avoids food to the point that he or she is fifteen percent or more below a healthy body weight" (Kittleson 2). In general, there are two stages of eating disorders: Early or Mild Stage and Established Stage. The Early or Mild Stage is defined by a mildly distorted body image and a weight ninety percent or less than average. In this stage, the sufferer will show no signs or symptoms of excessive weight loss, but they will be using potentially harmful weight control methods. The Established Stage is categorized by a severely distorted body image, a weight less than eight five percent of average, a refusal to gain weight, symptoms of excessive weight loss, and the use of unhealthy weight loss methods. In very young children, the exact symptoms of these stages may be less obvious due to growth patterns and normal food aversions. This has led researchers to develop a new class of anorexia called Childhood Onset Anorexia. It is defined by determined food avoidance, failure to maintain weight gain expected for age, actual weight loss, overconcern with weight and shape, and a distorted body image (Major). Parents need to be aware of their children's eating habits because the children may not know the damage they are causing to their bodies.

Anorexia is considered a very dangerous disease because of the harm it can inflict upon sufferers, both mentally and physically. Some early warning signs of anorexia are compulsive exercising, preferring to eat alone, fear of weight gain, distorted body image, significant weight loss, skipping meals, anxiety and guilt about eating, food rituals, preoccupation with food and calories, and withdrawal from friends and activities (Strada 44-46). The sufferer may try to hide these actions, but in time, the physical effects will be readily apparent. Dehydration, weakness, dizziness or fainting, poor circulation, and dry hair, skin, and nails are some of the first physical signs of anorexia. Anorexics will also suffer from a sensitivity to cold due to a lack of body fat. To combat this, the body will react by growing a fine layer of hair called lanugo (Major). If left untreated, anorexia will do serious and permanent damage. Some of the lasting effects are an irregular heart beat, kidney stones or kidney failure, muscle atrophy, bowel irritation and constipation, osteoporosis, infertility caused by a lack of menstrual periods, and even death (Strada 43). The risk of death cannot be emphasized enough. Four to ten percent of anorexia sufferers die due to organ failure or other effects of malnutrition. Also, the suicide rate for anorexics is seventy five percent higher than the general population (Kittleson 97). Anorexia is a serious disease and not to be taken lightly.

The causes of anorexia are multi-faceted, including environmental, psychological, genetic, and social aspects. Current research has shown that the biggest risk factor for an eating disorder is a mother, sister, or friend who diets frequently (ANRED). Mothers have been shown to have the strongest influence over a child's relationship with food, regardless of the sex of the child. If the mother has an unhealthy relationship with food, the child is likely to emulate that pattern (Major). Another major environmental cause is an overly strict parenting style. Children whose parents set too many limits and fail to encourage self expression are left with no sense of control. They often attempt to control the one thing they can in their lives: food. Family problems such as divorce and abuse also affect a child's sense of control, possibly leading to an eating disorder. Certain psychological problems have been found to have a direct relationship with eating disorders. People who suffer from depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, substance abuse, feelings of inadequacy, anger, and anxiety are more likely to develop anorexia (Kittleson 43). Also, children with a relative suffering from one of these conditions are at an increased risk for anorexia (ANRED). Social aspects must also be considered when looking at the causes of anorexia. Children with deficient social skills may use food as a distraction to ease social anxiety. Also, girls who undergo puberty earlier than their peers may diet to keep themselves from looking different. This puts them at an increased risk of anorexia. Finally, the media plays a large role in eating disorders. Magazines, television, billboards, and most forms of media promote the ideal that thin is pretty. This image is often unrealistic for the majority of people, but they may try to achieve this ideal using unhealthy means (Kittleson, 42-47). One disturbing trend that has emerged recently is the use of "pro-ana" websites. These sites promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice rather than a disease. They often give tips and show "motivational" pictures. In one study, ninety six percent of sufferers who visited these sites learned new information to further their



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