Concern voiced over eating disorders

HEALTH experts last night told the East Anglian Daily Times that an increasing number of young people in Essex are suffering from eating disorders and becoming more body-conscious - with children as young as seven being affected.

HEALTH experts last night told the East Anglian Daily Times that an increasing number of young people in Essex are suffering from eating disorders and becoming more body-conscious - with children as young as seven being affected.

An eating disorder charity spokesman and a health counsellor have identified an alarming trend among young girls striving to control their bodies as a result of stress and cultural pressure.

Celebrity magazines have been identified as one of the sources of mixed messages that heap demands on young girls to achieve a certain body image.

Celia Badley runs Chelmsford-based Trinity Eating Disorder Service, a specialist counselling service for adults and young people suffering from a range of conditions.


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She said: “I see people aged ten and over. I know there are cases of people aged seven or eight, although they are rarer.

“Young people are often struggling to find their own identity and are finding it hard to find their feet in the adult world, often they can be at bit perfectionist.”

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Mrs Badley added that one of the biggest problems facing impressionable young people, many of whom are dealing with extra pressures at home or school, was the incentive to diet to lose weight.

Obesity is at record levels among young people and with nearly a third of the children tested in Essex weighing in at obese, as reported in the EADT last week, it is possible that the pressure this brings may be a contributory factor to eating disorders.

Mrs Badley said: “Children are sensitive and take criticism personally, obesity may be one of the contributing factors. Obese children need to be dealt with sensitively and lovingly.

“There are young people who need to lose weight, but not done through cutting down food.

“On the typical GP's lists there are one or two people suffering with anorexia and 18 with bulimia, but the problem is much larger than that.”

According to the Trinity service, anorexia has stayed stable throughout the years, but bulimia and binge eating are on the rise.

People are often very reluctant to come forward and get help and there are countless more silent sufferers, including many boys.

Mrs Badley added: “There is a lot of shame and embarrassment felt, some people have been struggling for years.”

Steve Bloomfield, a spokesman for the Eating Disorder Association, said the earlier onset of puberty among young girls meant eating disorders were also surfacing at a younger age.

He said: “Pre-pubescent cases of bulimia are extraordinarily rare, but it is possible for children down to about eight years old to develop anorexia.

“We do know that young people who have low self-esteem do look at glamorous models in magazines and feel that if they looked like that, then maybe their problems would go away.

“Magazines are not the cause of the problem, but they do influence the thinking of young people and they can begin to diet inappropriately.”

But Ursula Deniflee, children and young people co-ordinator for Chelmsford-based Sycamore, a charity providing professional counselling and support for those with personal and emotional health difficulties, said young people today face a range of challenges, not just those of diet and appearance.

She said: “We try to find out what the child needs. Eating disorders are not one of our main symptoms to deal with.

“We haven't had a child under 12 or 13 with eating disorders for a couple of years now. It is not a main issue for us to deal with. The main issue is stress at school and divorce of parents.”

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