Child and Teen Eating Disorders

What is an Eating Disorder?

Is your child more than just a ‘picky eater’? Has your daughter lost weight recently? Has your son become more preoccupied with eating healthy and increasingly cutting out fats and carbohydrates from his diet?

In some cases, these behaviors may indicate the development of an eating disorder. Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, are serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses that are becoming increasingly common in children and adolescents. In young patients, parents are the first line of defense, and play a vitally important role in helping educate young people about eating disorders, and preventing a high-risk behavior from turning into a serious condition requiring medical and psychological attention.

Did You Know?

  • A recent analysis of data from the Pittsburgh Youth Study found that even at young ages, 35% of 9-year-old and 38% of 10-year-old girls were already dissatisfied with their bodies. Another study found that found that 39%of girls aged 11–18 were dissatisfied with their body weight. 1
  • One-half of 4th grade girls are on a diet.2
  • Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, at approximately 18% in 20-year studies and 20% in 30-year studies.3
  • What Parents Can Do:

  • Learn more about the different types of eating disorders >
  • Seek help for a child or teen with an eating disorder >

Download the warning signs of eating disorders (PDF)

1. Liechty, J. M. (2010).Body image distortion and three types of weight loss behaviors among nonoverweight girls in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health, 47 (2), 176–182. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.01.004

2. Gustafson-Larson, A.M., & Terry, R.D. Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 818-822, (1992).

3. “Mortality in Anorexia Nervosa”, American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 152 (7): 1073-4, (1995).


5. Smolak, L. National Eating Disorders Association/Next Door Neighbors Puppet Guide Book, (1996).

6. French, S. A., Leffert, N., Story, M., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Hannan, P., & Benson, P. L. (2001). Adolescent binge/purge and weight loss behaviors: Associations with developmental assets. Journal of Adolescent Health, 28 (3), 211-221.




These are frightening statistics! Parents, as well as educators, need to keep informed about various eating disorders because they can happen to any child or teen.
For a related artilce, “Educator’s Guide to Anorexia Nervosa,” click below: