Today there are even more depressing statistics about children and eating disorders. According to statistics released by British hospitals, more than 2,100 children were treated for eating disorders before they turned sixteen, including 98 five to seven-year-olds. Experts are blaming celebrity culture for celebrating extreme thinness, but one hospital says the media has nothing to do with it.
Thirty five NHS hospitals released the figures in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The Telegraph reports:
They include 98 children aged between five and seven at the time of treatment and 99 aged eight or nine. Almost 400 were between the ages of 10 and 12, while more than 1,500 were aged 13 to 15.
The real numbers are even higher, as some hospitals refused to provide data, and others excluded children being treated for eating disorders as outpatients.
Susan Ringwood of the eating disorders charity B-eat said the new statistics are proof that young girls are internalizing images of size 0 models and celebrities. (A study released in April found that in the U.K. 82% of five to 13-year-olds with eating disorders are girls.) Ringwood said:
"Children are receiving very pernicious messages. The ideal figure promoted for women these days is that of a girl, not an adult women. Girls see the pictures in magazines of extremely thin women and think that is how they should be. That can leave them fearful of puberty, and almost trying to stave it off."
However, representatives from Great Ormond Street Hospital said these claims are exaggerated. Dr Rachel Bryant-Waugh, Head of the Eating and Feeding Disorders Service at the hospital, told the BBC that she doesn't believe the media is pushing more children to develop eating disorders:
"We believe much of the coverage today regarding children and eating disorders is misleading. Models and other society influences are, in our experience, rarely a contributory factor to the development of eating and weight difficulties in young children."
Perhaps children aren't specifically citing distorted Ralph Lauren ads in their reasons for developing issues with food, but it's hard to imagine that there's no connection between an increase in the number of children with eating disorders and society's emphasis on thinness. Certainly, these are complex diseases that are caused by a variety of biological and psychological factors. However, it's also misleading to suggest that the increasing demonization of fat in our culture, from talk of how fast celebrities shed baby weight to fat people being kicked off airplanes, doesn't send kids a message that contributes to unhealthy attitudes about their bodies.