Any eating disorder can develop in children. Eating disorders are non-discriminating, and can develop at any time in life and for many reasons. Often a child will mimic a parent’s food behaviors. If a parent has an eating disorder and/or expresses dissatisfaction with his or her appearance or body weight, it can negatively affect a child’s perception of his or her own body weight.
The three main types of eating disorders are:
- Anorexia, a condition in which a child refuses to eat adequate calories out of an intense and irrational fear of becoming fat
- Bulimia, a condition in which a child grossly overeats (binging) and then purges the food by vomiting or using laxatives to prevent weight gain
- Binge eating, a condition in which a child may gorge rapidly on food, but without purging
In children and teens, eating disorders can overlap. For example, some children alternate between periods of anorexia and bulimia.
Most eating disorders develop during adolescence; however they can also start in childhood. Children as young as 5 or 6 have been diagnosed with eating disorders; it is uncommon but can happen. Females are much more vulnerable. An estimated 5% to 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male. With binge eating, the number rises to 40% male.