Children aged 8 suffer eating disorders

CHILDREN as young as eight are being treated for eating disorders in Suffolk as increasing numbers of people seek help for such problems, it has emerged.

CHILDREN as young as eight are being treated for eating disorders in Suffolk as increasing numbers of people seek help for such problems, it has emerged.

Frederike Jacob, psychotherapist at Suffolk East Eating Disorder Service (Seeds), warned last night of a growing problem in the county.

While the majority of people suffering from conditions such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are in the 14 to 21 age brackets there are a “disturbing” number of children seeking treatment, she said.

She warned that youngsters felt increasingly under pressure from the stresses of modern life and the need to look as thin as popular celebrities, such as former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham - who is reported to have a dress size of zero, the American equivalent of a British size four.

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Mrs Jacob, who specialises in supporting people with eating disorders, said the number of people seeking treatment had increased in the last few years.

She said: “Without doubt there has been a rise and a very disturbing statistic is that we are now seeing children as young as eight developing eating disorders.

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“Maybe in the past the numbers were skewed because people were not coming forward for treatment or there wasn't any available but nowadays it is much more in the news.

“It is still most prevalent in teenagers, aged between 14 and 21, but something we haven't witnessed before is a rise in the 40 and 50 year groups.”

Mrs Jacob said the rise in the number of youngsters suffering from eating disorders could partly be put down to the pressure of wanting to look like their favourite celebrity and also because of the pace and expectations of modern life.

“I know other teenagers were under stress during the war years or had to undertake hard manual labour but today there never seems to be a still moment,” she said. “We live in an achievement focused society and sometimes if people can't achieve something the one thing they can do is have a lean body.”

According to figures from Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts there are around 50 people in the area being treated for severe anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa mainly in the 15-35 age group, which reflects national figures.

A spokesman for the PCTs said: “It is a relatively rare condition, but when someone becomes seriously ill we have an excellent, national award-winning team that enables most people to live as normal lives as possible at home.

“In addition, there will almost certainly be people who are managing their lives around it, or seek help through the private sector. Or there are those who are at less risk physically and mentally, being managed very well through GP practices.”

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the Eating Disorders Association, based in Norwich, said the desire to fit into a size 0 dress was just one of the factors that could lead to dangerous eating habits.

She said: “We know of the pressure people are under to look like their favourite celebrity and it could certainly be the start of something but by itself it would rarely be enough to trigger a serious mental illness like an eating disorder.

“We have spoken to a number of people who have an eating disorder and they said the media did have an influence but didn't cause the disorder - it just made it harder for them to get better because everywhere they looked they saw beautiful girls on the front of magazines.”

Mrs Ringwood said researchers in the UK had found a possible genetic link with eating disorders related to personality types.

“If you are a perfectionist and want to be in control of a situation then sometimes eating disorders can develop because they are a way of talking control.”

Suffolk East Eating Disorders Service (Seeds)

n The group was formed three years ago and focuses on recovery - offering help, support and advice to sufferers and their friends and family.

n It has a small but highly trained team including specialist nurses, psychiatrists, a psychotherapist and dieticians.

n It meets on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month, between 7.30pm and 9.30pm, at the Rosemary Lane Centre, behind East Suffolk MIND premises, in 32 Foundation Street, Ipswich.

n For information call 07803 249114.

Anorexia Nervosa

n Body weight is maintained at least 15% below that expected for a person's height.

n It is self-induced weight loss caused by avoiding fattening foods and may involve taking excessive exercise, using laxatives or diuretics or self-induced vomiting.

n There is a strong, almost overwhelming fear of putting on weight, with sufferers preoccupied with the shape or size of their bodies.

n The weight loss may cause hormonal disturbances and women with anorexia nervosa may stop having periods.

Bulimia Nervosa

n Bulimia is an eating disorder characterised by repeated episodes of overeating and a preoccupation with the control of body weight.

n There is persistent preoccupation with eating and an irresistible craving for food.

n Sufferers have episodes of overeating in which large amounts of food are consumed in short periods of time.

n Symptoms include excessive exercise, induced vomiting after eating, starving for periods of time or taking medicines such as laxatives or diuretics to counteract the bingeing.

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