By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
According to Dr Jane Morris, chairwoman of the Scottish Eating Disorder Interest Group, healthy eating drives are causing anorexia in children. She said children were obsessing about their diet because of drives to combat obesity.
Last week reports of children as young as six were being treated for anorexia emerged, and figures showed medical treatments were on the rise. Dr Morris, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Royal Edinburgh hospital, said it was a ‘huge concern.’
She said, “We’ve had so many families say, all this [the eating disorder] started with the healthy eating lesson… Their child has come home from school and said, this food or that food was bad and she was only going to eat good food from now on. I’ve never yet heard a parent say, ‘thank goodness for the healthy eating classes because my child would be obese without them.’” She added, “The healthy eating message is often a trigger and it is often a disguise as well. Most young girls, in particular, have massive body image concerns.”
Dr Morris is working with private schools to study how eating disorders develop in seven to 17-year-old girls. Many schools run healthy eating lessons when pupils reach puberty.
Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beat, the eating disorder charity, said, “I’ve been in talks with the Department of Health in England about how they might nuance some of those messages around childhood obesity. To encourage anyone to obsess about their weight or shape, never mind an 11-year-old girl, is tricky.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman in reply said they helped reduce the risk of serious preventable conditions, including cancer, heart disease and stroke. The spokeswoman said, “We all have a part to play in improving the diet of Scotland’s young people and it is important that we continue to promote positive body image through the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and diet.”