Monday, May 25, 2009


This story in The Sun (admittedly not my typical reading) uses sensationalism and inflated language to hype a story that in itself is disturbing enough: The fact that in the U.K. in the last year, 44 girls ages eight and under were admitted to hospitals with anorexia or bulimia.

Think about that. Eight-year-olds have new front teeth. They might wear their hair in braids and play on a soccer (football to you across the pond) team. They're learning to spell and to multiply. They might have a best friend, someone they giggle with at lunch or on the schoolbus. They might have a favorite doll. They might love to scrapbook or draw.

Now think about a child that age in the hospital with anorexia or bulimia.

And now think about why a newspaper might report this story with this headline:

"Anorexia in girls aged 8 soars 25 per cent"

The second paragraph comments, "Shocking figures showed a huge rise in anorexia and bulimia among young girls over the last five years."

The journalist in me wants you to think about the facts: In 2003-04, 35 girls under the age of 8 were admitted to hospitals for EDs. So we're talking about a jump of 9 girls--hardly a "shocking" figure.

The advocate and mother in me wants you to think about the fact that even one girl with anorexia or bulimia is a tragedy, whether she's 8 or 18.


math4knitters said...

This fits into my discomfort when people say "OMG, girls as young as X are dieting!" As if, at age X (be that 8 or 6 or 10), dieting is obviously bad for you, but not bad for you as an adult.

Harriet said...

Right! What a mixed message we get. And are often guilty of sending ourselves.

Ari J. Brattkus said...

As the mother of a daughter who started down the hole of ed hell at age 9 after hearing about the movie Super Size Me and who just wanted to "eat healthy," I see a silver lining to these types of stories -- usually anorexia is presented as a problem of dysfunctional families and the sufferer's need to "control" her life. With 6, 7, and 8 year olds this paradigm of the illness just doesn't work. Six year olds don't crave autonomy. But young children are easily frightened by the constant drum of "these foods are bad for you" which, in my daughter's case became "all foods are bad for you."

Bee said...

It also must be considered that girls of that age and younger have always had eating disorders. It is more a reflection about the change in psychiatric care and how it has become somewhat easier to diagnose and treat eating disordered people.
In other generations this care did not exist in the same way, it was not discussed in our newspapers - so it 'didn't' happen. This is a tabloid article and it does not say anything of substance.

Harriet said...

True enough. But I suspect the incidence rate among very young children like this is also on the rise. Impossible to know for sure, though.

Anoif said...

As if, at age X (be that 8 or 6 or 10), dieting is obviously bad for you, but not bad for you as an adult.It sucks when anybody feels that they need to starve themselves to achieve a body that will be "acceptable"....

But I feel that seeing it in children is a new low. Whether their bodies are "good enough" shouldn't even be on the radar at 6, 8, 10... Which begs the question "when should it become important?" and I don't really have an answer for that. But intuitively, I feel that kids should be left to be kids, innocent and free of adult neuroses about weight and beauty.

But young children are easily frightened by the constant drum of "these foods are bad for you" which, in my daughter's case became "all foods are bad for you."I have to respectfully disagree, here. Maybe we're saying "eat healthy", but what is generally meant by that when kids hear it from any sort of media source is, "low fat, low calories". If mom's obsessing over her weight too (and let's face facts... I'd be willing to wager that the vast majority of women, FA movement aside, are), it doesn't require a great stretch of the imagination to think that this is a "thin" issue rather than a "healthy" one... even if kids don't necessarily identify it for what it is.

I'd like to see the statistics for boys... my guess is that the rate of eating disorders in boys is considerably lower than it is in girls. I'd attribute that to the fact that we teach girls that they have to be "pretty", and as far as we're hearing from outside sources, you must be thin to be pretty. (I'm paraphrasing... this does not represent my beliefs) More conventional wisdom: fat people eat too much. The easy and logical conclusion from these assumptions is that if you eat too much, you will be fat, and therefore ugly, and therefore unacceptable. Since adults are still coming to that erroneous conclusion, I wouldn't expect kids to have the critical thinking skills to descipher it.

Anyway. Sorry for the novel. :p

Ari J. Brattkus said...

I think young children may have had anxiety disorders that were not diagnosed -- fear of choking being one example -- but eating disorders as a direct result of nutrition advice or a classroom discussion of how to read a food label (in third grade!), I'm not so sure of. I know that we will see a rise in young children developing eating disorders, and I hope the treatment they receive will be evidence based and compassionate.

windy city girl said...

So, this article is in the Sun. Is the Sun not one of the tabloids that lambastes celebrities for gaining an ounce?

Mixed messages, much.

Harriet said...

Don't underestimate how young this stuff starts, and how relentless the messaging is. Remember that children are black and white thinkers. To them the world is divided into good and evil. They don't perceive or understand shades of gray. And the message that is EVERYWHERE is that fat is bad. Of course they internalize it. And some of them will act on it.

Ari J. Brattkus said...

I think it is both -- whether a kid hears it from Michael Pollan or sees diet commercials -- the message is, food is something scary, something you need to constantly be avoiding, being fearful of because, if it doesn't make you fat it will kill you anyway. Kids have no filter (and face it, most adult don't either!)to be able to read through the mixed messages, the junk science, and the hypocrisy of our nation's relationship with food.