Nov. 29, 2010— -- "I always wanted to be the good girl. Good girls are skinny and happy. The bad girls are the fat ones."
That was the justification a recent visitor to the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness in West Palm Beach, Fla. gave when asked why she starved herself to the point of hospitalization. She is eleven years old.
Anorexia and its sister-disorder, bulimia, have historically been thought of as striking white, middle to upper class teenage girls. But a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics warns doctors that eating disorders are happening to younger girls -- and boys -- at an alarming rate.
"People tend to have this idea of who gets eating disorders, but an eating disorder doesn't discriminate between age, gender, race, or class," says Johanna Kandel, founder and director of the alliance.
"Some research says that as much as ten percent of those with eating disorders are under the age of ten. What I'm finding at the alliance is that the number of parents seeking help for their 7-, 8-, 9-year-olds is escalating rapidly," she says.
A 2009 analysis found that in the last decade, hospitalizations for eating disorders more than doubled among children under twelve and now account for four percent of all such hospitalizations.
"Pediatricians need to be aware of the early symptoms of eating disorders because they are the medical professional that a child is mostly likely to see in any given year," says Dr. Jim Lock, director of the Eating Disorder Program at Packard Children's Hospital. "They are the gatekeepers."