The prevalence of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) in children is estimated to be 3-5%. And that’s only one of the many types of children eating disorders. Even though eating disorders usually start in adolescence or young adulthood (and this is the age at which parents begin looking for them), eating disorders in children are both possible and extremely dangerous.
Unfortunately, children with eating disorders can be very hard to diagnose. Most parents and doctors are not looking for them and changes to body weight are common as a child grows.
So how do you know when it’s more than “picky eating”? Keep reading to learn about types of children eating disorders, as well as signs and symptoms.
Eating disorders in children can mean both eating too little as well as eating too much.
Likely the most common eating disorder in children and often written off as “picky eating”, it occurs when children have a complete lack of interest and even sensory aversion to certain foods. It includes a fear of getting sick from certain foods, and children do not grow out of it. Children will become malnourished due to the small number of foods they’ll actually eat.
A well-known eating disorder, anorexia is when a child refuses to eat. Often, he or she has an extreme fear of becoming fat, or will often believe they already are fat. This disorder can have a severe impact on health and growth.
Similar to anorexia, it’s another disorder where a child is trying to prevent weight gain. In this case, the child will binge eat and then purge out the food. To purge, he or she will either use laxatives or vomit.
In this disorder, the child will actually eat uncontrollably. These children often feel out of control and will eat too much too quickly, often past the point of feeling full. It’s important to note that not all children with this disorder will be overweight, and it’s not the same thing as childhood obesity.
The reasons for most of these eating disorders is unclear. There appears to be a hereditary component, as children with a relative that has an eating disorder are much more likely to develop one — 7-12 times more than a child who does not.
And some eating disorders are actually believed to be specific to American culture. Societal pressures are certainly taking their toll. There definitely seems to be a link between eating disorder and social media.
Or it might even stem from childhood anxiety or depression.
Look for the following signs if you suspect your child might have an eating disorder:
Note that if your child has some of the above symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that he or she has an eating disorder. These are not definitive signs of eating disorders in children.
But if you do notice one or more of these symptoms, keep an eye out and talk to your child. If he or she continues to have problems, schedule an appointment with your health care provider or a childhood psychologist.