Feature

Health scare of the week: Anorexic kindergartners

Doctors are diagnosing more and more children as young as 5 with anorexia nervosa.

Doctors are diagnosing more and more children as young as 5 with anorexia nervosa, ABCNews.com reports. Hospitalizations of elementary-school children with the potentially deadly eating disorder, which causes them to starve themselves, increased by 72 percent between 1999 and 2009. “No one knows what triggers it,’’ says Julie O’Toole, a pediatrician who directs an eating-disorders clinic. “The science isn’t there yet.’’ She says it doesn’t appear to be brought on “by the media or by pressure to be thin,” but is largely heritable and often accompanied by an anxiety disorder. Anorexia is diagnosed 10 times more often among girls than among boys, but it may be that boys are just better at hiding their symptoms, O’Toole says. Researchers say the disorder can be particularly difficult to spot in children under 12, who may stop eating without being able to articulate the reason. Diagnosing children quickly is critical, says Lynn Grefe, director of the National Eating Disorders Association, because “the longer the person has an eating disorder, the harder the recovery.”

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