Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Six-year-olds and eating disorders

This Canadian article, published last November, is one of the few I've seen anywhere that overtly links comments and teasing about weight with eating disorders. A significant percentage of teens with eating disorders are overweight at some point. As this piece points out, other people's responses to their weight can start them spiraling down into the hell of an eating disorder.

"Research shows that when girls are teased about their size and their shape, they stop eating," says Mary Kay Lucier of the Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association (BANA).

Notice that she did not say "when overweight girls are teased." That's the part that gets me. The act of teasing and making fun of a young girl's weight, even if it's "all in fun" (a phrase I loathe), can be enough to trigger self-starvation in some kids.

Lucier went on to say, "We've had 25 seven-year-olds in the past year come in in a state of acute starvation." I can imagine all too well what lies ahead of some of these girls. It's not pretty. Not at all.

BANA runs education programs, but its budget (like so many nonprofits') has recently been slashed. If you feel motivated to give away a little money in a good cause, download a donor form here.

Maybe the best thing all of us can do is teach our children that just as it's not OK to touch someone who doesn't want to be touched, it's also not OK to comment on anyone else's body--positively or negatively. We have better things to talk about.


mimi said...

Thanks for this post, Harriet. Teasing definitely helped trigger our young child's spiral into an eating disorder. No where near overweight, our athletic son was tall for first grade. Two smaller, lanky friends made comments about "fat" on the heels of a school Health Day weigh in. By age 9 he was diagnosed AN.

Anonymous said...

I wish the study had a control group of kids who had never been teased about their weight, so we could know what happened with them, and how much difference the teasing makes. Actually, I just wish there were more kids who had never been teased about their's such a pervasive nastiness these days.

Harriet said...

I'm with you on that one, Anonymous.

MJK said...

Yep, teasing is what pushed me over the edge into anorexia when I was in 8th grade. between the mixed messages I was getting from my mom at home, and the constant, horrible, merciless teasing at school I just had no self esteem left. I was convinced that I did not deserve to eat. *sigh*

I'm pregnant now, everyone asks me if I want a boy or a girl. I would love a little girl, but I hope for a boy because I'm terrified to raise a girl in this world

Anonymous said...

I think teasing led to a lot of my issues too. I remember in grade 7 this mean boy in my class called me "lumpy" and everyone laughed. And in grade 2 I was five pounds heavier than my best friend and she laughed at me. And then in high school, a bunch of jerks yelled "Hey fatty!" out their window at me as they drove by. It never ends.

Kids are mean though, I don't know if there's really anything to be done about it. I'm not trying to trivialize it because I know firsthand how awful teasing is for kids, but unfortunately I think we're stuck with it.

mary said...

I wish we could end bullying too! That's a cause I'd back!

MJK, I hope you have a daughter who you raise to be strong and sure of herself,and kind because you understand the ways of this world. If it's a boy the same. Boy's get teased too.
Do I think an ED can begin after teasing? Perhaps we need to be mindful of all potential risks. My husband knew a girl who died of her ED back in the 60's. She went from a teased chubby girl to an anorexic girl who would not eat. This was long ago but he will never forget her story and he's certain it was the cruel words that brought this about. Perhaps there was more, like a diet or sickness. I don't know. I do know that words make brutal weapons and also very good tools for supporting or challenging someone to fight. So, I can't take words out of the ED argument knowing that the ED speaks like a bully. And yes, I still know that food is the best medicine to a starving person! Somehow we need to encourage with words, challenges, and love as well.