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Are you concerned about your child's nutrition or eating habits? Are you concerned because your child is very underweight?

What are Eating Disorders?

  • Eating disorders occur when children and adolescents display unstable eating behavior. This unstable eating behavior is often related to a disturbed sense of body image and weight.1
  • There are two primary types of eating disorders. These include Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.1
    • Anorexia Nervosa occurs when a child or adolescent makes efforts to stay underweight, refuses to maintain a normal body weight (even when asked), is fearful of gaining weight, and does not have insight into her own body image (i.e., thinks she is overweight when she is very underweight).
    • Bulimia Nervosa occurs when a child or adolescent frequently engages in binge eating (i.e., eating very large amounts of food, particularly high-calorie food, in a very short time), purging (i.e., vomiting after an episode of binge eating), and/or other active methods of avoiding weight gain. The main differences between Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are that (a) individuals diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa are able to maintain a body weight at or above that which is considered normal, but (b) often try to hide their disordered eating behaviors from others.
  • Girls diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa who have reached puberty may often skip periods or may not have a period at all. Girls diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa who have not yet reached puberty may delay puberty due to their eating habits.1
  • It is not necessary for purging to occur for a child or adolescent to be diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa (other active methods of avoiding weight gain may be used instead, such as starvation or exercising excessively).1
  • It is important to note that "normal" body weight should be determined by a medical professional, based upon the child or adolescent's age and height.
    • "Underweight" is generally defined as being lower than 85% of what would be considered "normal" weight (based upon age and height).1

How common are Eating Disorders in children and adolescents?

  • Girls are approximately 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and/or Bulimia Nervosa than are boys.1
  • Of individuals diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa, 90% or more are females (combined children, adolescents, and adults).1
  • Anorexia Nervosa is typically diagnosed between the ages of 14 to 18 years, and anorexic behaviors and thoughts may begin as a result of some type of stressful situation.1
  • Bulimia Nervosa is typically diagnosed in late adolescence or early adulthood and often follows a period of dieting.1
  • Over 10% of individuals diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa who are hospitalized for the condition result in death.1
  • Children and adolescents diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa are more likely to have a first-degree relative (i.e., parent, sibling) diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa or a mood disorder.1
  • Children and adolescents diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa are more likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, or personality disorder, and/or to use substances. They are also more likely to have a first-degree relative diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa, a mood disorder, or substance use/abuse.1

What can I do if my child has been diagnosed with an Eating Disorder?

  • Visit a mental health professional who can assess your child for an eating disorder. Click here to learn about mental health providers in your area who can assess for and/or treat eating disorders in children. If you are outside the central MS area, please click on the following link(s) to learn about community mental health resources in your area: http://www.dmh.state.ms.us/pdf/CYSDirectory-Arial-9-15-08.pdf, http://www.nami.org/MSTemplate.cfm?Site=NAMI_Mississippi
  • Because individuals diagnosed with eating disorders (Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa) have difficulties with body image and self-esteem, it is imperative that a comprehensive eating disorders assessment also include an evaluation for mood disorders and/or substance use.
  • Additionally, because of the dangerous eating behavior in which individuals diagnosed with eating disorders engage, it is important that a child or adolescent diagnosed with an eating disorder receive a comprehensive medical examination to determine what (if any) medical action must be taken to help the individual's recovery.
  • The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) provides education and guidance for parents, and families of individuals diagnosed with eating disorders, and also provides a "Helpline" to answer any questions parents, families, and/or individuals may have regarding eating disorders. Their website is located at http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/.
  • Additionally, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) provides education and guidance, in addition to information about support groups, to parents and families of individuals diagnosed with eating disorders. Their website is located at http://www.anad.org/.

1American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed. rev.). Washington, D. C.: Aut

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