Business Week reports that, between 1999 and 2006, eating disorders in children under the age of 12 rose dramatically. Hospitalizations for eating disorders rose 119 percent, and cases of severe anorexia and bulimia also rose. Those children who engage in activities where physical shape is important, such as athletes, models and dancers, are at a higher risk for eating disorders than other children, according to the new study.
A dramatic increase in the number of boys and minorities have health officials worried. Dr. David Rosen, author of the new study, says eating disorders can afflict anyone:
“We wanted people to understand eating disorders are equal-opportunity disorders.”
As a parent of two children myself, I try to be cognizant of their physical and mental health. My daughter is about to turn 16, while my son will be 12 in early 2011. They are both physically healthy and are mentally normal for American kids.
My wife and I also understand the pressures placed upon children from their peers and from sources such as movies, advertising and famous personalities. When my daughter looks at a picture of someone wearing a dress, I don’t want her to think she has to look abnormally skinny to be attractive, nor do I want my son to think he has to be cut like David Beckham to excel at soccer.
We knew it was time to protect our daughter from a damaging self-image when she had her first relationship with a boy at school. I’ll never forget the first time my daughter came crying to us when her first boyfriend broke her heart when she was 12. Her first thought was that she wasn’t attractive enough to him, as her boyfriend was a year older.
It was at this point we tried to tell her dating isn’t just about physical attributes. Yes, liking someone for their looks may be important at first. But wanting to spend a lot of time around someone has more to do with what you have in common and less about looks.
Our daughter’s break up had more to do with her boyfriend finding another girl more interesting because she had more in common with him. Our daughter still got her feelings hurt, but we needed to tell her it had less to do with physical appearance and was more about feeling comfortable around another person.
We needed to instill upon our daughter that confidence comes from within herself. She doesn’t have to alter her appearance drastically to be attractive to another person and she doesn’t have to live up to anyone’s standards.
At times it was difficult to convince our freckled and sometimes acne-ridden girl having a bad hair day that she was still a beautiful person. It helps knowing she’s developed a lot of friendships while at school and is currently dating a boy she was friends with for a few years.
The most important thing we can do as parents is to know boys and girls can be influenced by many aspects of society. As parents, we must be at the forefront of setting examples, and need to realize kids can be influenced at an almost subconscious level. How my wife and I treat each other is important to our kids’ perception of relationships, as our marriage is what they see on a regular basis for guidance on how to handle being with someone.
How parents act around each other is probably the best thing we can think to do to help prevent an eating disorder in our kids.
Goodwin, Jennifer, “Rate of Eating Disorders in Kids Keeps Rising,” Business Week.