This is an excerpt from a recently published student report by Frances Thomas for CBC Newsday in British Columbia covering the rise of eating disorder cases among preteens. Excellent article covering eating disorder diseases and the lack of specialized treatment options in the area.
Preteen Eating Disorders on the Rise
A special student report by Frances Thomas for CBC Newsday
The number of young children hospitalized for eating disorders is on the rise amongst preteens and children in B.C., and that’s leading to an increasing demand for more education and treatment, according to health care workers.
“Girls as young as three are aware of fat and don’t want to be,” says Mimi Hudson, director of community and provincial programs at Family Services of the North Shore.
“In Canada, there are kids as young as seven who have been diagnosed [with an eating disorder]. That’s pretty serious,” she adds.
“It’s growing,” says Dhaliwal. “There are more kids that are under the age of 13; probably about 20, 30 per cent of our population [at the inpatient clinic].”
Jackie, the mother of the youngest child ever treated for anorexia at B.C. Children’s Hospital as an inpatient, says she was completely caught off guard by her daughter’s illness.
“It didn’t even occur to me that she could have an eating disorder. I thought that happened to teenagers. She was nine,” said Jackie, who wished to remain anonymous in order to protect her child’s identity.
Anne Bissonnette, 21, of Kelowna says she can trace her eating disorder back to age three, even though she didn’t receive treatment until she was 14.
Bissonnette says doctors need to be more discerning on picking up eating disorders in young children.
“I had gone to so many doctors for health problems and no one picked up on it. They just kept telling my mom, ‘No, no, no. She’s a picky eater. She’s fine.’ And I wasn’t.”
No specialized treatment center
In British Columbia the only inpatient unit for youth with eating disorders is at B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.
But resources are limited and Dhaliwal says a specialized unit for children and preteens with eating disorders isn’t viable.
“I don’t think the population is big enough to accommodate a sole specialized program for [younger children].”
Instead the younger children are treated within the same program as older teens, she says.
“We have different care plans in place for the older ones and the younger ones,” affirms Dhaliwal.
As the parent of the youngest child ever to enter the program at the time, Jackie said staff at times seemed unprepared for such a young patient, but says they were flexible enough to accommodate some changes at her request.
One change was to allow Jackie to stay later than other parents so she could tuck her daughter into bed at 8:30 p.m. A second change was not to put her daughter in group therapy with the older teens.
Dr. Ellen Domm, a registered psychologist and certified eating disorders specialist who runs a private practice in the Vancouver area believes that the healthcare system is doing the best it can with its limited resources. But she is concerned that is still not enough.
“I don’t think everybody who needs help is getting help,” she says.
“I think they need more of everything: more doctors that help to identify problems when they’re in their beginning stages, more therapists, more support.”
More education needed
As a survivor, Bissonnette says part of the solution is more education for everyone involved.
“If no one knows what’s going on, how can they solve a problem?” asks Bissonnette.
B.C.’s eating disorders awareness coordinator is Amy Candido.
She works at Jessie’s Legacy, a support program of Family Services of the North Shore that focuses on eating disorder prevention by educating youth, families, educators and professionals on healthy eating and exercise habits.
She agrees that schools, families, healthcare professionals and communities need to be more aware that eating disorders can occur in pre-pubescent adolescents.
Fairwinds Treatment Center, located in Clearwater Florida is on of only a few dual diagnosis treatment facilities that specializes in adolescent eating disorders, Fairwinds accepts patients from 12 years and up. To help parents get the help they need, Fairwinds is dedicated to building awareness of adolescent and preteen eating disorders, If you or someone you know ihas a child strugging with an eating disorder, call Fairwinds Treatment Center at 1-800-226-0301 or through our website here. Our admissions counselors will help find a program that best fits your situation.