Mar 18, 2014 8:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Childhood eating disorders are on the rise. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported that hospitalizations due to eating disorders in kids younger than 12 increased 119 percent from 1999 to 2006 and 18 percent for the 12-to-19 age group. As a parent, you’re the first line of defense. Here are five ways to help protect your kids: 

1. Arm yourself with knowledge.

What might seem like normal behavior could be a warning sign of an eating disorder. Learn the facts about anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa so you can recognize symptoms and know how to help.

2. Communicate with your child, and start young.

Teens and young adults aren’t the only ones who suffer from eating disorders. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 42 percent of girls in first through third grades want to be thinner. And 81% of 10-year-old children fear being fat. Help build your children’s confidence and self-esteem, starting from a very young age. Encourage them to say positive comments about their bodies. Teach them about proper nutrition and why it’s important to fuel your body with food.

3. Set a good example.

Your child notices when you skip meals or mumble that you’re fat. Be aware of not only what you say but also what you do. If America’s Next Top Model is your favorite TV show, consider watching it after your kids go to bed.

4. Know your family history.

The leading factor in eating disorders—50 to 80% of the time—is a person’s genetic makeup. But if eating disorders run in your family, that doesn’t mean your child is destined for the same outcome. It does mean that you should talk with your child about the risks, and be extra vigilant for warning signs.

5. Be proactive.

If you think your child or teen has an eating disorder, enlist the help of a pro—today. When left untreated, eating disorders can lead to serious medical issues and death. Contact your local University of Utah Health Care pediatrician, who can assess your child’s condition and connect you with specialists to get your child back on a healthy track.

eating disorders kids health

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