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Did You Know That Anorexia Can Develop in Kids as Young as Kindergartners?

This story from ABC News breaks our hearts. The writer, Susan Donaldson James, introduces us to Sophie, a girl from Washington State who started to become anorexic in kindergarten.

James notes that she started off by eating less and less food and exercising whenever she could. Her parents couldn’t have known that their little girl was developing anorexia nervosa, especially since Sophie’s height and weight were pretty average. Fast-forward a year, when Sophie dropped from the 60th to the 19th percentile on the weight charts, and was finally diagnosed with the disease.

“She was slim, but not skeletal [in kindergarten],” Sophie’s mom Anne recalls. Then one night, during bedtime, Sophie said, “Mommy, I have a problem… I am hungry all the time and I can’t eat. A voice in my head is telling me not to eat.”

A chronic brain disorder, anorexia is extremely inheritable, however the causes of the disorder are unclear. The Kartini Clinic in Portland, Oregon, estimates that approximately 56 to 70 percent of anorexics have someone in their family member who also suffers from an eating disorder or a comorbid condition.

“No one knows what triggers it. The science isn’t there yet,” Dr. Julie O’Toole, founder and medical director of the Kartini Clinic, told ABC News. “But it’s not caused by the media or pressure to be thin, though people like to blame that. Parents don’t cause eating disorders and children don’t choose to have them.”

While reported rates of anorexia among young children are fairly low, a study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that hospitalizations for children under 12 increased by 72% between 1999 and 2009.

Since Sophie’s diagnosis, Anne has gotten her daughter the help she needs. Part of that plan involves family-based therapy where Anne has learned how to “take responsibility” for Sophie’s eating. “We created an environment where eating was required. As their weight goes up, they start to get better.”

“The more you understand about anorexia, the more you understand it conceptually as a brain disorder, and that is empowering,” said O’Toole. “It’s not a character flaw or a parenting issue or dysfunctional relationship. It’s the luck of the draw.”

Source: ABC News

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02.27.2013 / 05:50 AM EDT by Jo Aaron
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