Anorexia is an eating disorder marked by very low food intake and/or excess physical activity. It is often driven by fears of weight gain and distorted body image. Anorexia can lead to severe symptoms, such as stunted growth, bone loss, damage to major organs such as the heart, and even death.
The cause of anorexia in children is not known. It appears that genetics and world around them play a role.
Anorexia can occur in both girls and boys, but is much more common in girls. Things that increase your child’s risk of anorexia include:
It may take some time for physical sins to appear. Behaviors that may show up first include:
Physical symptoms may include:
The doctor will ask about child’s symptoms and past health. A physical exam and a psychological test will be done. The diagnosis will be based on information from questions and the exam.
Tests may be done to see what problems may be present. Tests may include:
Management of anorexia will include:
The length and intensity of treatment will vary. It may take many years to fully manage anorexia. Treatment should include more than one approach but may include:
Some dietitians focus on eating disorders. They can help to set weight and calorie goals. They can also sort through distorted nutrition information that someone with anorexia may have picked up. It is also important to relearn hunger cues.
Nutrition may need to be given through a tube. It is often only needed for those with severe nutrition problems. It may be used at the start or for those with a long-term problems.
Therapy can address harmful thought patterns, anxiety, and poor self-esteem. The goal is to develop a more positive attitude about food and body image.
There are different types of therapy. Treatment may include more than one type of therapy. Some therapy options include:
Antidepressant medicine may help some children.
Severe anorexia can cause more serious health problems. A hospital stay may be needed. They will give needed nutrition or track problems such as heart disorder.
An inpatient program may help children who have not been helped by other treatment.
The cause of anorexia is complex. Not all can be prevented. Family habits can play a positive role in children's self-image. Helpful habits include:
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
Caring for Kids—Canadian
Anorexia nervosa. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/health-topics/conditions/anorexia-nervosa. Accessed August 23, 2020.
Anorexia nervosa. Child Mind Institute website. Available at: http://www.childmind.org/en/health/disorder-guide/anorexia-nervosa. Accessed August 23, 2020.
Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/anorexia-nervosa. Accessed August 23, 2020.
Campbell K, Peebles R. Eating disorders in children and adolescents: state of the art review. Pediatrics. 2014 Sep;134(3):582-592. Available at: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/134/3/582.long#content-block.
Kids and eating disorders. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/kid/health_problems/learning_problem/eatdisorder.html#cat20081. Accessed August 23, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Chelsea Skucek, MSN, BS, RNC-NIC Last Updated: 12/9/2020