Difficult eaters may have underlying psychological issues

Parents, take note! Bullying can initiate or reinforce body image preoccupations and possibly lead to a change in eating behaviour in kids, a new study has warned.

PTI| Updated: Oct 08, 2014, 17:47 PM IST

Toronto: Parents, take note! Bullying can initiate or reinforce body image preoccupations and possibly lead to a change in eating behaviour in kids, a new study has warned.

Childhood eating difficulties could be a sign of underlying psychological issues, researchers have found.

Researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children's hospital said that difficult eaters could have underlying psychological issues, after they have found that restrictive behaviours can appear before puberty.

"Many researchers believe that bulimia only appears at adolescence, but our studies indicate that the problem can arises much earlier. It is possible that it is currently under-diagnosed due to a lack of awareness and investigation," said clinical psychologist and Professor Dominique Meilleur, who led the study.

Meilleur and colleagues studyed the psychological, socio-demographic and physiological characteristics of 215 eight to twelve year olds with eating problems.

Kids with physical issues that could cause eating problems, such as diabetes or cystic fibrosis, were excluded from the study.

The researchers found that the children often suffered from other problems: in particular, anxiety and mood disorders and attention deficiency.

"More than 15.5 per cent of the children in the study made themselves vomit occasionally and 13.3 per cent presented bulimic behaviours," Meilleur said.

"These results are very concerning but they may help clinicians reach a diagnosis earlier by enabling them to investigate these aspects," Meilleur said.

Across the study, 52 per cent of the children had been hospitalised at least once due to their eating problem and 48 per cent had been treated as outpatients emergency responders.

"The fact that most children had been hospitalised upon contact with medical services suggests that the children's physical health was precarious. It is also worth noting that psychiatric issues were present in the families of 36.3 per cent of the study participants," Meilleur explained.

The results of this study indicate that 22.7 per cent of the children identify having been mocked or insulted for his or her appearance as a trigger event to the modification of their behaviours.

"For some children, bullying can initiate or reinforce body image preoccupations and possibly lead to a change in eating behaviour," Meilleur said.

Around 95 per cent of the children in the study had restrictive eating behaviours, 69.4 per cent were afraid of putting on weight, and 46.6 per cent described themselves as "fat."

"These behaviours reflect the clinical presentations we observe in adolescents and support findings that body image is a preoccupation for some children as early as elementary school," Meilleur explained.