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Anorexia Nervosa in Children

  • Overview

    "It's important to note that eating disorders are illnesses of denial and secrecy; they're often very difficult to track down."

    Sara Forman, MD, Director of Children?s Hospital Boston's Outpatient Eating Disorders Program

    From TV shows like “The Biggest Loser” to celebrity diets and infomercials touting “two-minute abs,” America is obsessed with how we look.

    So it’s sad but not surprising that a negative body image is not uncommon among today’s youth and teens, especially among girls. Sometimes, though, feelings of negative body image and associated unhealthy behaviors spiral out of control. Anorexia nervosa (AN, or simply “anorexia”) is a form of self-starvation, a complicated eating disorder with medical, behavioral and psychological components:

    • It’s characterized by low body weight (less than 85 percent of the normal weight for the child’s height and age), a distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight.
    • Many teens and their families struggle with anorexia nervosa. Eating disorders are the third most common chronic disease in the United States.
    • An estimated 0.5 percent of 15- to 19-year-olds have anorexia nervosa.

    Anorexia, and the malnutrition that results, can damage nearly every organ system in the body, and may be fatal. Early diagnosis and treatment are extremely important.

    How Children’s Hospital Boston approaches anorexia nervosa

    The Eating Disorders Program at Children’s Hospital Boston provides comprehensive evaluation and treatment services every year to more than 200 adolescents with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders. Staffed by expert specialists, the program addresses your child’s medical, nutritional and psychological needs in order to effectively treat her disorder.

    Our healthcare team also gives guidance to many providers in the northeastern United States and beyond.

    Providers from the outpatient Eating Disorders Program and other members of Children’s Division of Adolescent Medicine have helped develop inpatient clinical guidelines for children who are admitted to the hospital for eating disorder-related medical needs.
    Our providers also consulted on the National Eating Disorders Screening Project. They have advocated for insurance coverage for eating disorders at the Massachusetts State House, and give frequent presentations on eating disorders throughout New England.

    Get real, Barbie!

    In recognition of the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Children's Center for Young Women's Health created a replica of what the Barbie doll's proportions would be if translated to an actual woman.

    Barbie stands 5 feet 9 inches with a 39-inch bust, 18-inch waist and size 3 shoe — an imbalance that would probably require her to walk on all fours!
    Boys and their bodies: recognizing eating disorders in males

    When you read the terms “anorexia” and “bulimia,” what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, your brain probably conjures up images of smoky-eyed, waif-thin European models, or maybe the teenage girls who emulate them here in America. But according to a recent report from Pediatrics, eating disorders affect a far more diverse group of people than many realize.

    Anorexia nervosa: Reviewed by Sara Forman, MD
    © Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2011

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