Eating Disorders

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Eating Disorders

Obesity

Food is essential for life and our physical and mental well-being is directly influenced by the quantity and quality of what we eat. In the developed world food is generally plentiful with a wide range of choice that is affordable and available. Obesity wouldn't occur if food was scarce though psychological, social and ocassionally medical factors also play a part. Obesity has many long term health issues including increased risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Many obese individuals have very poor self image and are therefore of increased risk of mental health issues such as depression. Obese children can be prone to bullying leading to social isolation and low self-esteem. It can also lead many individuals into eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Though obese children need to reduce their body weight this needs to be done through a programme of support that maintains emotional well-being. Schools should consider all children that are overweight to be vulnerable and should consider what support needs to be offered or sought in order to maintain good mental and physical health.

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Eating Disorder Risk Groups

Children and young people at risk of developing an eating disorder include those who:

are overweight
are involved in competitive sports and performing arts such as dance
have autistic spectrum disorder
are experiencing difficulties at home particularly looked-after children
have been abused physically, sexually or emotionally
highly academic girls who like to get things right

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Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is a serious mental health condition affecting mainly girls (90%) though boys are increasingly being diagnosed. It is a very dangerous mental health disorder with some studies suggesting that up to ten per cent die from suicide or other medical complications. Anorexia may often be co-morbid with autustic spectrum disorder with possibly 20% of sufferers having autistic traits.

Symptoms include:

Body weight is significantly below average for age and height
The sufferer is unwilling to accept the seriousness of being underweight
Sufferers think they are fat or overweight
High anxiety and fear about getting fat or putting on weight
Excessive value placed on body image in defining themselves
In girls, menstruation stops

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Warning signs:

Skipping meals
Rigid dieting
Reluctance to remove outdoor clothing
Reluctance to do PE or obsession with PE and exercise
Lethargy and fainting
Mood swings
Poor concentration
Mood swings

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Bullet Break

Bulimia Nervosa

Sufferers of bulimia tend to have frequent reoccurring episodes of eating followed by actions designed to prevent weight gain. Weight is usually within the normal range for age and height.

Symptoms include:

Fluctuations in weight
Excessive or out of control eating
Self-induced vomiting
Laxative misuse
Diurectic misuse
Fasting
Enemas
Excessive exercise
Excessive value placed on body image in defining themselves

Warning signs:

Callused knuckles (known as Russell's Sign)
Using toilet immediately following eating
Chewing gum or eating mints to mask smell of being sick
Swollen glands in neck - sufferers may try to hide this with clothes such as scarfs
Absorbed in own thoughts and lacking focus in lessons
Mood swings

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Support

Schools, particularly in the secondary age range should have procedures for identifying and supporting pupils with eating disorders. Anti-bullying policies and initiatives should include eating disorders as possible outcomes of bullying. Where possible schools should have staff trained in supporting pupils with eating disorders and be able to make appropriate referrals to support agencies such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). Schools should work closely with parents to monitor and support the child. Keeping discussions positive and finding ways of improving the child's self-image and boosting their self-esteem should be prioritised.

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You may also be interested in the following pages:

Circle of Friends

Emotional Regulation

Social Anxiety Disorder

Bullet Break