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Children & Young People

Parental concerns should always be taken seriously

The threshold for screening in children and adolescents should be lower than in adults due to:
  • the potentially irreversible effects that an eating disorder can have on physical growth, psychological and social development
  • the fact that children are likely to medically deteriorate at a faster rate than adults

Adolescence is the most common period of onset for an eating disorder(1). However, young people very rarely actively seek help themselves.

Children and adolescents are nearly always brought to treatment by concerned adults (i.e. parents, family members, educators).

The sooner a young person gets help the greater the likelihood is that they will recover entirely from the eating disorder and that recovery will happen sooner(2).

If parents are worried, screening and a full assessment of the young person is always warranted

Common parental concerns that should raise your concern include:
  • Changes in eating behaviours (i.e. closeted eating and hiding food, cutting food into small pieces, moving food around plate, skipping/avoiding family meals, cooking their own food separately, eating alone, rituals around food preparation)
  • Avoidance of particular food groups (i.e. vegetarianism/veganism, avoiding fats, carbohydrates, sauces, and dressings)
  • Commenting on, or expressing concerns about, their own body weight or shape
  • Denial of hunger and reported lack of appetite
  • Increased interest in preparing food for others (but not eating it)
  • Food going missing from cupboard fridge and evidence of secretive eating
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom and evidence of vomiting
  • Mood fluctuations (including increased irritability, anxiety, depression)
  • Changes in sleep patterns and activity levels (i.e. lethargy or spurts of energy)
  • Gradual social withdrawal (particularly from food-related outings)
  • Excessive exercise and symptoms of exercise withdrawal
  • Wearing baggy clothing
It took us ages to get my daughter’s diagnosis because her weight was healthy, she was quite active, and she was adamant that she was fine. It wasn’t until a few months later when she was quite suicidal that the GP took our concerns seriously.Ali, father and carer