Serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorders affect millions of Americans each year. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that 90 percent of individuals affected by eating disorders are adolescent girls or young women ages 12-25.
Two of the most serious eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia, are on the rise among girls in their teenage years. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that approximately one percent of adolescent girls will develop anorexia nervosa and an additional two to three percent will develop bulimia nervosa. It is also becoming more common in males.
Anorexia nervosa is a condition where the person literally starves herself/himself. It can be so severe that it may lead to death. The person can be clearly underweight but still perceive herself as fat. Although painfully hungry, a person with anorexia constantly watches what she eats and will usually deny being hungry. Persons afflicted with anorexia are often perfectionists and high achievers in school. However, they usually suffer from low self-esteem or depression and believe becoming thin will solve some or all of their problems.
Bulimia most often affects older girls between the ages of 17 and 25. These individuals binge on large amounts of food and then purge themselves by self-induced vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, or excessive exercising. Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia tend to maintain normal or above normal body weight, making it easy for them to hide their problem.
Both anorexia and bulimia lead to the same outcome. A child or adolescent with an eating disorder is malnourished. Serious damage is being done to his/her body that can effect growth and development, lead to early onset of osteopenia (bone disease), decrease mental awareness, increase depression and heart disease and possibly even death.
Many adolescents are successful at hiding their disorder so that family, friends and teachers don't even realize the child is suffering. If your child shows any of these warning signs or you suspect an eating disorder, discuss your concerns with a physician right away.