Pediatric Eating Disorders Increasing: More Therapeutic Intervention Needed

The news that pediatric eating disorder cases are on the rise might not be a huge surprise. However, what may come as more of a shock are the groups that are being disproportionately affected. Hospitalizations of young male patients saw an increase of 416%, in patients ages 12 to 14 by as much as 196%, leading experts to question what more needs to be done to tackle this crisis. We know that in certain circumstances feeding and eating disorders can be highly heritable, but how can they be treated successfully in boys?
The rise in cases of pediatric eating disorders
When we think about those who have eating disorders, by nature we think about the stereotypical image – a white teenage girl perhaps from a well-to-do background who is perhaps struggling with feelings of underachievement, or suffering from peer pressure.
However, over the last few years, this has been turned on its head somewhat with the number of referrals amongst young males reaching new heights. In the same way, for many years, girls were chronically under-diagnosed with conditions such as autism or ADHD, we’re seeing the same happen to young boys. Historically, they have been missed out when it comes to screening for a wide range of eating disorders, including conditions such as ARFID and Pica.
Lesser known eating disorders in males
eating-disorders_pexels-markusspiske-175422Whilst many recognize anorexia and bulimia as the most well-known eating disorders, conditions such as ARFID and Pica can also affect young boys, especially those who may sit somewhere on the neurodivergent spectrum – having either autism or ADHD.
ARFID is known as Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and is characterized by an unwillingness to eat anything that isn’t considered a ‘safe food’, typically sufferers will have a small range of beige foods that they consume regularly, including potatoes, pizza, or pasta.
Pica is an eating disorder where the sufferer will eat items that are not considered to be food – and the symptoms will be present for longer than a month. Typical things that are consumed are chalk, sand, soil, and even gravel in some cases. Pica can be linked to existing nutritional deficiencies.
Many parents aren’t aware of what to look out for in terms of signs and symptoms of eating disorders in young boys. Typically, they can present as sudden changes in eating behaviors, coupled with rapid changes in weight or growth. Often these can be accompanied by signs of malnutrition and a decline in physical health as well as mood and behavioral changes that have no real explanation. Physical symptoms can include tiredness, lethargy and an inability to concentrate, constantly feeling cold, hair loss, and general weakness.
Therapeutic intervention needs to start early
In an ideal world, therapeutic intervention for pediatric eating disorders would start as early as possible with a regular regimen of therapy for children either as an outpatient at a high-quality clinic or as an inpatient with weight and diet guidance, alongside other nutritional therapies. Early diagnosis of eating disorders allows for better intervention and a greater chance of earlier recovery than a later diagnosis would achieve, though it is still eminently possible to achieve wellness even if it is caught later on. More research needs to take place into how eating disorders affect young men and boys to gain a clearer picture to develop better treatments.

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Last Updated on July 1, 2024 by Marie Benz MD FAAD