INDIANAPOLIS - The National Eating Disorders Association released new statistics Monday showing kids as young as first grade want to be thinner.
"To be honest, I was a little surprised," said Kimble Richardson, a St. Vincent licensed mental health counselor. "Even mental health professionals need to be made aware that this is a trend, not in the right direction."
Richardson said he is starting to treat kids with eating disorders at younger and younger ages.
"Eight maybe," he said. "Sometimes 6, 7, but about 8."
The new numbers released Monday showed:
- 42 percent of 1st through 3rd grade girls want to be thinner
- 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat
- Hospitalizations for eating disorders up 119 percent in children under 12 in past decade
"That's the most disturbing statistic to me, because you have to get in a pretty bad way to be hospitalized for that issue," Richardson said.
Richardson said kids being bombarded with images of perfection is part of the problem.
"They probably wouldn't be able to recite an overt message: 'I need to be thin.' But it's insidious and it's covert in ways. They see the images," he said. "Kids do copy their idols, and if a parent has an issue with their own self-esteem, with their own body image, that's tough to hide. And kids are smart and they pick up on that. And again, it's an unspoken, sometimes unspoken message."
Limiting food intake and trying to lose weight is especially concerning for this age group since their bodies and brains are still developing, and starting these habits so young makes their eating disorder harder to treat.
Parents need to help their kids understand what a healthy body image looks like -- being fit, but not too thin -- and also how to look at your whole health picture including both mental health and physical health.