Australian kids as young as four are being hospitalized for eating disorders after refusing to eat and going on slimming diets in their quest to be thin, according to a clinical report.
The largest eating disorders clinic in NSW, based at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, has reported a 270 per cent spike in the number of children being admitted to hospital over the past decade.
Even more alarming is the rise in the number of children being treated as outpatients at the hospital - it has increased more than 10-fold, up from 298 in 2003 to 3157 in 2009.
Clinic co-director Dr Michael Kohn said patients are getting younger.
"The average age for presentation is decreasing and the reason is the stress on young people has increased, so that those people vulnerable to develop eating disorders are doing so at a younger age," the Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying.
On Thursday alone, Kohn saw 12 new patients including a five-year-old.
He identified several factors driving down the age of patients with eating disorders including media portrayal of thin women and cute men as attractive ideals, the amount of food advertising targeting children, and that the children of obese parents don't want to end up like them.
"The fact that children have obese parents and don't want to get fat, wanting to be healthy but in the process diet and lose weight unhealthily, leading to the development of eating disorders - it's a group we haven't seen before," said Kohn.