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Bulimia Nervosa in Children

  • Overview

    It’s sad but true that a negative body image is not uncommon among today’s youth and teens, especially among girls. Sometimes, however, body image distortion and associated behaviors spiral out of control.

    Bulimia nervosa, usually referred to as “bulimia,” is defined as uncontrolled episodes of overeating (bingeing) and usually followed by:

    • purging (self-induced vomiting)
    • misuse of laxatives, enemas or medications that cause increased production of urine
    • fasting
    • excessive exercise to control weight

    Bingeing, in this situation, is defined as eating much larger amounts of food than would normally be consumed within a short period of time (usually less than two hours). Eating binges occur at least twice a week for three months and may occur as often as several times a day.

    • Studies suggest that there has been an increase in the number of cases of bulimia over the past 50 years in the United States.
       
    • It’s estimated that 1 to 5 percent of adolescents have bulimia. An estimated 1.1 percent to 4.2 percent of females in the United States are reported to have bulimia.

    Bulimia, and the medical problems that result, 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 bulimia nervosa

    The Eating Disorders Program at Children’s Hospital Boston provides comprehensive evaluation and treatment services every year to more than 200 adolescents with bulimia, anorexia nervosa, binge-eating disorder 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.

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

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