Health

Models 'not to blame' for eating disorders in children

  • 1 August 2011
  • From the section Health
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Models
Claims about the influence of models on children have been challenged as "misleading"

A leading hospital has challenged claims that the "size zero" culture is causing eating disorders in children.

Figures were quoted in several national newspapers for children as young as five being admitted to hospital with food-related problems.

Campaigners fear that young children are being influenced by celebrity magazine culture.

But Great Ormond Street Hospital said such factors were unlikely to be the cause.

'We believe much of the coverage today regarding children and eating disorders is misleading," Dr Rachel Bryant-Waugh, Head of the Eating and Feeding Disorders Service at the hospital, said.

"Models and other society influences are, in our experience, rarely a contributory factor to the development of eating and weight difficulties in young children."

Dr Bryant-Waugh said children as young as five might have to visit hospital with low weight and significant eating difficulties "for a variety of reasons, and not because they have one of the formal eating disorders Anorexia nervosa or Bulimia nervosa."

Seventeen-year-old Hannah, who was diagnosed with anorexia when she was 15 but has since recovered, said she was "shocked, in a way" to hear that such young children were diagnosed with eating disorders.

Now acting as a youth ambassador for the eating disorder charity Beat, she told BBC News that images of skinny models in magazines "can give children a negative body image, but they don't cause the problem - because it's a mental illness."

Recent figures show that in England between 2009 and 2010 there were 395 admissions to hospital for eating disorders among 0 to 14 year-olds.

Gender difference

Figures published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in April this year suggest that in the UK and the Republic of Ireland eating disorders affect about three in every 100,000 children, aged between five and 13.

Over a 14 month period, the study, carried out by the Institute of Child Health at University College London, found that 82% of the children with eating disorders were girls, with boys accounting for 18%.

In total, 37% of the children were diagnosed with anorexia. 43% were classified as having an eating disorder not otherwise specified, but only 1% were diagnosed with bulimia, with the rest having other symptoms such as food avoidance, or being underweight.

Uncertain figures

Susan Ringwood from the charity Beat warned that the problem may be worse than the figures suggest.

She said many young people with eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia have not yet got treatment, so it is difficult to know exactly how many are affected.

"I think it probably doesn't capture the whole picture here because we know that lots of people who have an eating disorder haven't yet got the treatment that they might need so I think the picture of people affected could actually be larger than this."

She also warned that the age of those affected by eating disorders was coming down. "We are seeing younger children affected.

"I was part of the group that put together the government guidelines on treatment in 2004 and then we said people (were) as young as eight. But I think we're seeing younger ones coming forward now."

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