Dr. Terry Bravender, assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, and medical director of Duke Eating Disorder Program, sees an alarming trend with respect to the eating habits and concerns about body image in young girls.
In a report by MedicineNet.com, Dr. Bravender stated that girls as young as 7 or 8 are dieting and, according to a recent survey, 40% of 9- and 10-year-olds claim to be on some kind of weight-loss diet.
While Dr. Bravender stated these “body-conscious” behaviors do not mean a child is definitely headed for serious eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia, he saw them as unhealthy and worrisome, and worthy of parental notice.
Fads come and go and a particular diet may only be transient in that it imitates something on TV or at home. However, when a preteen engages in repeat dieting, frequently talks about “fattening” foods, and spends unusually large amounts of time in front of a mirror, this should “set off parental alarm bells.”
Unfortunately, other experts see parents as being part of the problem when they too engage in image-conscious conversations or behavior of their own. “Teenybopper” celebrities who dress provocatively and fashion designers who create age-inappropriate erotic designs just add more fuel to the fire.
Dr. Bravender believes kids should be allowed to be kids and not be pushed to grow up too quickly. Stressful times in a developing child’s life are the most likely points for serious eating disorders to appear. The end of puberty (around 14) and when girls leave high school and enter college are the most stressful.
Developing a healthy respect for food and sensible eating without obsessing about calories are the ways to avoid problems. It is also helpful if parents let their children know that it’s OK to be exactly who you are as a person. It will go a long way to preventing the formation of life-long negative behaviors.