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Communities That Care | More children exhibit eating disorders

The “Straight Talk” presentation Tuesday at Mount Nittany Middle School will focus on eating disorders, a group of conditions that can be life-threatening and that affect young people in increasing numbers.

Children and adolescents with anorexia nervosa lose weight by restricting food intake, overexercising or both. These children have distorted images of their bodies and see themselves as fat, even when other people see them as thin. They are intensely fearful of gaining weight. One to 2 percent of adolescents and young adults are anorexic.

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binge eating large amounts of food and then purging the food, usually by vomiting, exercise or laxative use. Bulimia is uncommon in younger children, but it affects about 4 to 6 percent of teenagers and adults. Patients with BN are usually at a normal weight or slightly overweight. They typically are very secretive about their behaviors, which can go undetected for long periods. Binge eating disorder is similar to BN, but there is no compensation for the bingeing in these patients, and they are often overweight.

A new diagnostic category of eating disorders called avoidant restrictive food intake disorder recently has emerged. Patients with ARFID don’t have the body distortions and fear of gaining weight seen in people with anorexia and bulimia; they instead avoid foods based on texture or color; or they’re concerned about negative consequences of eating, such as an allergic reaction or choking. However, not every child with picky eating can be diagnosed with ARFID. This diagnosis requires that the disorder has significantly affected nutrition or ability to function in social situations.

Some patients don’t neatly fit into one of the main eating disorder categories, yet they clearly have disordered eating habits and a distorted body image. Those individuals may fall into a general diagnosis of an unspecified eating disorder. Up to 4.8 percent of adolescents may be affected by unspecified eating disorders, which have similar rates of medical complications when compared to anorexia and bulimia.

Eating disorders can affect people of any age, and although females are disproportionately affected, up to 25 percent of those affected by eating disorders are male. Complications of eating disorders can affect every part of the body and often coexist with other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts are increased in patients with eating disorders. However, the evidence indicates that early treatment improves overall outcome. This is especially important in children and adolescents, because in addition to the other medical complications, eating disorders also can irreversibly affect final height and development in a growing child.

The care of patients with eating disorders is often prolonged. However, with effective treatment, they can achieve a healthy and productive life. Please join us Tuesday for an open discussion on this important topic.

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