For many children, body dissatisfaction emerges very early in life; a recent study found that over half of girls ages 6-12 are concerned about their weight. Whether a child meets full criteria for an eating disorder or not, early body dissatisfaction can inhibit a child’s ability to fully enjoy and participate in daily experiences, and can have serious implications in later life. Early intervention is critical.
Evidence-based treatments for children with eating disorders, body dissatisfaction, or problematic eating patterns begin with a careful, age-appropriate assessment to determine the extent, impact, and function of the symptoms. Treatment then involves psychoeducation for the child and family, and, in most cases, intervention by a multi-disciplinary team, including a behavioral therapist, dietician, medical doctor, and/or psychopharmacologist. While some children may be treated effectively for eating disorders at the outpatient level of care, others may first require referral to a higher level of care (such as a hospital, residential treatment center, or intensive day program) to ensure safety and medical stability.