Body image is a major concern for many and so children and boys as young as seven are affected with eating disorders.
A dramatic jump over recent years in the number of cases of anorexia among children in New South Wales has seen doctors forced to create intensive programs to help those in need. It means GPs and mental health specialists are now working to diagnose disorders early so children can receive help before their condition becomes critical.
‘Worryingly, some of these eating disorders are only being discovered when children are rushed to hospital with issues caused by starvation. ’
Advertisement'It's about recognising eating disorders are common and if we want the best outcome we want people to be picked up early, treated early and treated close to home, family and their school,' Dr Sloane Madden, eating disorders unit co-director at Sydney Children's Hospital said.
Dr Madden said looking stronger and fitter is becoming more important at a younger age. However it's not all about looking like sports heroes, but also an increased focus on health and fitness in society that's leading to the increased number of cases.
"In that nine and 10-year-old age group boys want to be fitter [and] want to be more muscular, so they really cut back on their food and they exercise in a very compulsive way," he said.
In 2016, 100 children have been checked in to Westmead hospital in Sydney with eating disorders. Of those, around 10 percent are under the age of 12, while four out of five come from metropolitan areas. While anorexia and other eating disorders have long been associated with young girls, that's beginning to change. 'It's not vanity at all, it's genetically based serious psychiatric illness with serious complications.'