The Rise of Eating Disorders in Children

Over the course of the past 20 years, eating disorders have grown significantly, affecting both males and females of all ages. While this issue has been nationally recognized, it appears as though it’s only becoming worse. With stick thin models gracing every magazine and the “ideal” body being almost unattainable, the risk of eating disorders is increasing, especially among the younger generation.

Over 50% of teenage girls use unhealthy weight control behaviors including excessive fasting, improper dieting, skipping meals completely, vomiting, taking laxatives and smoking cigarettes (Lyness, 2011). While boys experience these difficulties to a lesser extent, they are not completely immune to them. “In a study on fifth graders, 10 year old girls and boys told researchers they were dissatisfied with their own bodies after watching a music video by Britney Spears or a clip from the TV show Friends” (University of Washington, n.d).

[showmyads]The issue has led to the creation of many campaigns in an attempt to combat the problem, with First Lady Michelle Obama working to promote healthy eating habits, Dove launching a “beautiful in your own skin” campaign and various magazines trying to create a more natural, non-Photoshopped image for today’s youth.

The world is obsessed with celebrities who are too thin or too fat, constantly focusing on who’s gained weight and who’s too skinny. “A 1996 study found that the amount of time an adolescent watches soaps, movies and music videos is associated with their degree of body dissatisfaction and desire to be thin” (University of Washington, n.d). There’s never mention of a healthy “middle ground” in the media and that could be what’s stressing the younger generation as they struggle to attain the “ideal” weight.

A very recent and popular example of a young celebrity battling with an eating disorder is Demi Lovato, who admitted to having both a drug problem and anorexia since as early as 11 years old. Her struggle was unknown to the public until her very publicized meltdown, when she checked herself into a recovery center and reached out to her fans for support. Due to her courage and strength, her fans were extremely supportive and it’s obvious that her struggles have touched the hearts of many teenagers battling with the same disorders.

For children to understand the dangers of eating disorders, it’s imperative that they are educated in the subject matter. In highschool health classes, the focus is more on sex education and abstinence rather than a healthy body image and eating disorder awareness. Admittedly, it is a sensitive topic — so children who are not comfortable with speaking to adult authority figures might be limited to searching the internet, watching television programs or reading popular magazines for the desired information. In some cases, this leads to even greater confusion if they encounter incorrect data.

Many young kids today believe that they’re “fat” according to media standards and this is dangerous. When you watch America’s Next Top Model and see a young woman who’s a size 6 and is considered plus size, it makes you wonder how on earth these industry standards ever came about. In the 1960’s-1970’s, the voluptuous and mature figures of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe were greatly accepted and deemed as sexy. Poor Marilyn would be lucky to get a photo shoot today.

The physical problems associated with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa include damage to the heart and other vital organs, low blood pressure, slowed heartbeat, abdominal pain, loss of muscle mass, hair loss, and sensitivity to cold. Health complications associated with bulimia nervosa include damage to the heart, kidneys, reproductive system, intestinal tract, esophagus, teeth, and mouth.

Treatment is widely available, most commonly through psychotherapy. More importantly, these disorders are preventable if our children receive the appropriate education. If more people stand up against these eating disorders, it could have a huge impact on today’s youth and hopefully lead to a decrease in these afflictions. The further we keep our kids away from this path to destruction, the better.


Jessica Tanning is a freelance writer focusing on health and wellness. Her interest in addiction stems from having a family member battling a disorder for almost 10 years and she hopes to learn more as she continues to research the subject.


Lyness, D. (2011). The rise of eating issues and disorders. Retrieved September 14, 2012 from

University of Washington. (n.d). Teen health and the media. Retrieved September 14, 2012 from