Child Eating Disorders, Part 1: April 9, 2011

It's a startling new statistic: the number of kids being hospitalized for eating disorders has gone up 119% in the past 10 years. "This is just growing. Just exploding," warns Dr. Angela D'Alessandro, a pediatrician on The Children's Hospital medical staff.

She has seen this problem first-hand and says a preoccupation with celebrities and other media influences are only a piece of this disturbing puzzle. "I definitely think family dynamics play a big role. So, how the family views weight, dieting, and health. I definitely think the friends play a role and how their friends respond to weight, dieting, that kind of talk is a big influence on kids. Genetics play a role. We're findout more and more so it's multi-factoral."

The recent study, published in the journal or pediatrics, finds that anorexia and bulimia were the most diagnosed in girls under 12 who were hospitalized between 1999 and 2006. And there was also an increase in eating disorders among boys. "For instance, gymnasts, wrestlers, dancers, runners, they're at a particularly high risk of developing an eating disorder and studies have shown that a lot of these kids have what they call partial eating disorder syndrome."

Children diagnosed with eating disorders can face serious physical, mental, even emotional problems. "Scary in kids. For instance, adolescence is a crucial time for bone mineralization. And in these young kids with these eating disorders, that's completely disrupted. We're also seeing some irreversible changes in brain structure. Certainly eating disorders affect every organ system but there are some that are longer lasting and that's scary."

Tomorrow in Health Matters, how to spot a potential eating disorder in a child. Plus, we'll look indepth into the treatment process and how physicians across Southwest Florida are coming together to provide a healthier attitude toward a child's self-image.