How parents could be causing eating disorders in kids
PARENTS of two to six-year-olds are being recruited for simple training on how to protect their children from eating disorders.
With the Gold Coast recording a seven-fold increase in public hospital admissions for paediatric eating disorders since 2010, the region's health service is attempting to tackle the problem before it begins.
Gold Coast University Hospital senior dietitian and researcher Lyza Norton is teaching child health nurses proven strategies for educating mums and dads on how to build resilience in their young children, steeling them against body image issues during the vulnerable school years.
Ms Norton said that since starting with Gold Coast Health in 2001, she had seen huge increases in the number of children with eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.
"Children as young as 11 are becoming so malnourished they need to be admitted to hospital for treatment," she said. "The severity of the malnutrition is much higher than it used to be and research from Melbourne shows that girls as young as five are already dieting to lose weight."
Ms Norton advised parents against talking about dieting in front of their children, whatever their age.
"If you're in a dieting family, where mum's on and off the paleo and keto diets, and this diet and that diet, and all these different diets your whole life, you're more likely to think: My body isn't good enough, I need to diet because that's what mum does," she said.
"If a parent is dissatisfied with their own body and they're talking about it constantly in front of the kids, they're putting them at risk of an eating disorder."
Ms Norton said the Confident Body, Confident Child program, developed by Melbourne's La Trobe University and designed to promote body satisfaction and healthy eating in preschoolers, recommended against "appearance-based" praising of children.
"We should also be teaching kids not to bully or tease other kids about their appearance because it fuels negative body image feelings," she said.
"Kids tearing down other kids, or adults teasing, even calling a child 'shorty' or 'she's a bit plump' - they internalise those things. All the research shows that's not good."
Ms Norton said other protective factors included eating together as a family as often as possible.
"Get children interested in food and have food as a positive thing," she said. "As soon as we see food as a negative thing in our world then it becomes something that has control over us."
Gold Coast Mum Orly Muscat, 35, is keen for her two daughters Ella, 4, and Emily, 2, to grow up with a positive body image after she herself struggled with bulimia for six months after high school.
"I really try not to talk about dieting or the 'fat' word in front of them," Ms Muscat said. "Eating disorders are so common. I want to prevent it before it happens by teaching good eating habits and having a good relationship with food.
"They're like little sponges. You've really got to watch what you say and what beliefs you're planting in them from a young age.
"I want them to realise that everyone's different and it's what's on the inside, not the outside, that matters."
For more information: confidentbody.net