By Damien Gayle
Last updated at 10:18 AM on 30th December 2011
A child of three is among hundreds of youngsters receiving hospital treatment for eating disorders, a report has revealed.
Doctors said society pressures to conform to ‘perfect’ body images were fueling cases of anorexia and bulimia.
Shocking figures released yesterday found two six-year-olds and four seven-year-olds were referred for treatment in one area alone.
One child who was given life-saving help was just three. But doctors say the statistics are just the tip of the iceberg, with few sufferers actually get treatment.
Dr Malcolm Bourne, a child psychiatrist at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said doctors only see one-in-five children who are suffering from eating disorders.
‘Evidence shows that it can take 18 months to two-and-a-half years for children to realise they have an eating disorder or seek treatment for it,’ he said.
‘We only work with children up to 16 years of age, and the majority of eating disorders in children start in the teens, so some will end up being treated in adult services.
‘Long term eating disorders have the worst death rates in child mental health. Around five per cent die from them eventually, people can be very resistant to treatment.’
The report published yesterday showed 125 children under 18 have been treated for eating disorders by the East Lancashire Child and Adolescent Service (ELCAS) since 2007.
The majority of those helped – 109 – were aged 12 to 16. But many were under 10, including the three-year-old, who was treated earlier this year.
A total of 102 young girls were treated for eating disorders, compared to 23 boys. The majority suffered from anorexia or bulimia.
The findings echo figures published earlier this year which showed 600 children under 13 were referred to hospitals with eating disorders since 2009.
According to statistics released from 35 hospitals in response to a freedom of information request, 197 were aged from five to nine and 400 between 10 and 12.
Some hospitals refused to release information, suggesting that these shocking figures may themselves be an underestimate.
Others would only release figures for those treated as inpatients after their conditions became life threatening.
Charlotte Ord, 23, below left, spent her teenage years gripped by an obsession with food in a deadly disorder which almost cost the petite Northumbria University student her life.
At 14 years old she weighed just 3st 5lb – less than the average weight for a six-year-old.
It took six years for Charlotte to overcome her obsession with food, which began when she was 12 and she weighed around six stone.
She said: ‘I wasn’t happy with myself – not necessarily the way I looked or my weight, just everything. I was being bullied at school and was generally unhappy.
‘It was mainly a control thing – I couldn’t control the rest of my life but I could control what I put into my body.
‘I was 15 and a half years old when I was admitted to hospital, basically because I was going to die.’
After a slow recovery she now weighs a healthier eight stone.
She said: ‘Life’s good – I’m studying human nutrition at uni and I’m married, so I’m optimistic about the future.’
He said that the pressure put on young people to conform to a certain body image could be blamed on a large number of eating disorders.
‘Most young people who have an eating disorder have a distorted body image,’ he said.
‘Everybody else sees them as very thin and skeletal but they will think they are fat.
‘I do think societal pressures contribute to it in some way. For some young people you can trace it back to being teased about being fat.’
For information and help on all aspects of eating disorders please visit www.b-eat.co.uk