Children and Eating Disorders

Children and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are most commonly seen in young people under 18 and are becoming more common in children between the ages of 8 and 14. Eating disorders in children are becoming more common and within this age group research shows that boys are at as high a risk as girls. While the symptoms of an eating disorder such as anorexia may become visable and more apparent in older children, especially during puberty, it is at these earlier ages that children may start to engage with disordered thoughts regarding their eating, shape and weight. Eating disorder in children is difference than fussy or picky eating as it is linked to issues related to emotions, self-image and self-esteem.

If you suspect that a child has an eating disorder it must be taken seriously. Disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are not simply a phase that they will grow out of and they are not just a way to get attention; they are serious mental health illnesses that can be treated effectively by specialist therapies.


  • Commenting on their shape and weight
  • Being overly concerned about fat 
  • Obsession with food or eating habits 
  • Talking about good and bad food
  • Hidding eating or storing food
  • Sudden changes to eating habits, e.g. cutting out 'bad' foods or whole food groups such as meat

While obesity is a major health issue that is affecting children, and it should be taken seriously, we must be mindful of how children understand health and diet - children can take message about health and food literally which can be a trigger to disordered eating thoughts and behaviours. It is important that we talk to our children and discuss issues related to food, weight and eating openly to ensure they understand the balance of health eating.

As a parent or professional working with children it can be worrying and very distressing due to the serious nature of these disorders. While eating disorders in children are very dangerous and serious conditions, if they are caught early before serious damage is caused children can make a full recovery. If you are worried about a child and think they may have an eating disorder do not panic and take a first step of speaking to your GP. You can also talk to a member of the EDANI team in confidence on 02890235959. Remember that there are specialist services and supports available for both you and your child at every step of this journey and you do not have to go through this alone. 


Tips for Talking

Talking to your child about their condition can be very difficult, especially if they don't understand that they have a problem. However, communication is essential to help with recovery, so keep trying.

When you want to talk to them directly about the eating disorder:

  • Read up on eating disorders to understand them
  • Don’t blame or judge
  • Concentrate on how they’re feeling
  • Stay calm and do not panic 
  • Have resources to refer to
  • Be prepared for a negative response
  • Do not deal with this alone!



Eating Disorder Association NI
28 Bedford Street,
Belfast, BT2 7FE
Phone: 028 9023 5959