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Eating Disorders in Children and Adolescents

Posted on Jul 23, 2018

Jasmine Reese, M.D.

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are serious chronic conditions that are often underdiagnosed. These illnesses have high morbidity and mortality so it is important for us to recognize the signs and symptoms in order to get our kids the right help they need for recovery. Jasmine Reese, M.D., director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, shares some important information on this topic.

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are complex medical illnesses that have serious physical, mental and psychosocial consequences as well as association with high mortality rates. Some examples of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. These are actually mental health disorders and so someone suffering from an eating disorder should not only have a medical provider involved in their care, but they should also have a mental health expert involved as well.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder?

One of the most common signs that you may notice is an individual who frequently skips most of his or her meals or often restricts food intake. You may also notice binging or purging behaviors. Someone with anorexia nervosa may be restricting food intake to the point of malnutrition, severe weight loss and also have fear of gaining weight or severe body image disturbances. On the other hand, someone who may be struggling with binge eating disorder may be eating larger than normal portions of food in one sitting to the point of feeling sick. These are all examples of an unhealthy relationship with food.

What can happen due to severe food restricting or binge eating behaviors?

Over time, an individual’s body can undergo unhealthy changes including rapid weight change, hormone changes, electrolyte shifting, low energy, fatigue, breathing problems, hair loss, blood pressure changes, heart rhythm abnormalities, fainting and even death.

What are some helpful questions to screen for eating disorders?

S: Do you ever make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
C: Do you worry that you have lost control over how much you eat?
O: Have you lost more than about 14 pounds in a three-month period?
F: Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are too thin?
F: Would you say food dominates your life?

What should you do if you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder?

Take your concerns seriously. This can be a very sensitive topic to discuss but reaching out to a trusted adult is extremely important. Discussing with your pediatrician or doctor will help you receive the right care, evaluation, diagnosis and treatment plan.

This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.

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