Fussy eating = eating disorders?

Kids who under or overeat could develop eating disorders in teens

NHS

'Fussy eating' in children 'increases risk of eating disorders' - but increase is very low

"Children who overeat, pick at meals or are fussy when it comes to food may be more at risk of eating disorders as teenagers," the Mail Online reports. The news website reports on a new study based on data of a long-running research project looking at parents and children in the UK.

Researchers asked parents to record their child's eating patterns; specifically looking for undereating, overeating, or fussy eating (defined as a child preferring to eat only certain foods while being reluctant to try anything new).

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Does fussy eating as children lead to eating disorders?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

It can be a tricky job for a parent to make sure their child gets the right food on their plate, but a kid's eating habit could affect their health in later life.

A new study claims that children who under- or over-eat are more likely to develop eating disorders as teenagers.

However, health experts warn that parents and carers should not be overly concerned by this news story.

The Claim

Children who overeat, pick at meals or are fussy eaters may be more at risk of eating disorders as teenagers, the Daily Mail reports.

A study by University College London found that unhealthy eating habits as a child can lead to anorexia and binge-eating during adolescence - in particular, among girls.

Researchers examined data from over 4,700 people, made up of children and their parents. The kids were born in the South West between 1991 and 1992.

The children's eating habits were recorded by their parents eight times from ages one to nine, and then the children self-reported if they had an eating disorder at 16.

It found that children who overate were six per cent more likely to binge in their late teens, and girls who under ate were six per cent more likely to develop anorexia.

Dr Moritz Herle, author of the study, said: "From a large robust cohort we were able to identify patterns of eating behaviours at an early age that may be potential markers of later eating disorders.

"Our results suggest children who show high and persistent levels of fussy eating might be at increased risk of developing anorexia nervosa.

"And children who overeat persistently are at a higher risk of binge-eating in their teenage years."

The Counterclaim

NHS Behind the Headlines warns that the story could cause "considerable and unnecessary alarm", even though the risks are very low.

They write: "Research looking into the risk factors for eating disorders in young people is valuable.

"However, it's very common for young children to go through periods of fussy eating or undereating, and the media coverage may cause considerable and unnecessary alarm for many parents and carers."

They explain that the risks mentioned in the study are very low. For instance, children only had a one per cent risk of developing an eating disorder to start with - and this only increases by one to two per cent for fussy eaters or overeaters.

The NHS concludes: "Parents and carers should not be overly concerned by this news story and periods of disrupted eating in childhood are common."

The Facts

According to Beat, there are around 1.25 million people in the UK who have an eating disorder. The charity said that three quarters of those affected by an eating disorder are female.

The number of boys receiving treatment for eating disorders has doubled in recent years, the Telegraph reports. The number of men receiving treatment has also risen by more than 40 per cent in two years.

Research from the NHS also found that 6.4 per cent of adults displayed signs of an eating disorder.

On average, the condition first develops at around the age of 16 to 17. However, Beat says they are "aware of cases of anorexia in children as young as six and some research reports cases developing in women in their 70s".

The eating disorder charity said that calls to its helpline had nearly doubled over the course of a year, surging from 17,000 in 2017/18 to an estimated 30,000 in 2018/19.

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