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Eating disorders

Children and eating disorders

There are some differences between eating disorders in children (younger than 12) and eating disorders in teenagers and adults.

Children are:

  • less likely to say that they are afraid of weight gain or being fat
  • less likely to make themselves vomit or use laxatives
  • less likely to understand that their condition is serious
  • more likely to have physical symptoms
  • less likely to have symptoms that fit the pattern of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder, but more likely to have ARFID.

Risks of eating disorders in children

Malnutrition in children with eating disorders can slow down normal growth, delay puberty, and cause brain problems such as an inability to learn and think normally.

Girls may not start having their periods at the normal age.  Children with eating disorders can also have psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Having an eating disorder in childhood increases a person’s chance of developing obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease in later life. Low bone density and osteoporosis (having porous, fragile bones that are prone to fractures) is a risk, especially for girls with anorexia nervosa who become malnourished in early adolescence and who don’t have normal periods.

Even if they recover from anorexia nervosa, they may not build up normal bone mass.

Getting help for eating disorders

For children and teenagers, the team should include people with special experience and training in managing eating disorders in these age groups.

Who can help with eating disorders

Page last reviewed Aug 2015 | C1037V1

This is a general guide only, and does not replace individual medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for advice about your situation. The RANZCP is not liable for any consequences arising from relying on this information. Subject matter experts, people with lived experience of mental illness and carers all contributed to this fact sheet.