What is pushing children towards anorexia? – News: Medicine and psychology

Léa * decided one day, at the age of eleven, to refrain from desserts. His portions at the family table have also declined. The girl was in fifth grade, school was easy for her, she had friends, she was a passionate athlete. Food has never been a special topic until now.

But suddenly Lea, found her legs, they were too strong. "She had slim, muscular, athletic legs," says Lea's mother. By the way, like all women in the family. From sports to summer holidays, Leah ate less, but she ate. She lost weight, her parents encouraged her to eat, the situation did not seem too dramatic. But Lea did not talk about what she was doing. In her mind, she was constantly comparing herself to other girls. And they all seemed slimmer.

Then Lea started the sixth year and the situation got worse quickly. From August to October, the girl lost eight kilos, one fifth of her weight, 32 kilograms still weighing. "She's completely withdrawn, refusing to eat, depressed, apathetic, looking," said her mother. "It was horrible." When Lea's nearly collapsed on a five-kilometer run, the desperate parents turned to the psychiatric department of the child and adolescent of the Zurich Psychiatric University Hospital. .

Cause performance pressure

Lea is not an isolated case. Eating disorders such as anorexia are increasing in the group of 10 to 12 years old. "Patients are getting younger in recent years," says Dagmar Pauli, Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Zurich and specialist in eating disorders. . In the past, they would have rarely treated a child in this age group, it is today's everyday life.

The psychologist Armita Tschitsaz, who heads the therapy center for eating disorders at the University Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Bern, makes the same observations. Research in Germany has confirmed that for Switzerland there are no current figures. "The increase in the number of children can be detected especially among 11-12 year olds," writes a recent study by Beate Herpertz-Dahlmann, a German psychiatrist specializing in eating disorders, and a specialist eating disorders. According to Pauli, it happened that the hospital for 12-year-olds had to feed artificially in the intensive care unit.

There are several reasons for this development. "The pressure of high performance is definitely a problem," says Pauli. International studies have shown that the greater the pressure exerted, the more children were predisposed to eating disorders. "We treat a considerable number of students in the gym," says the psychiatrist. Although boys also suffer from eating disorders, about 80% of those concerned are still women. Some personality traits also seem to increase the risk of anorexia. Anyone who wants to do everything very well, is very disciplined and responsible, has high moral standards for himself and for others, has a greater risk of contracting.

This can confirm Lea's mother. "Even as a little girl, Lea was very controlled and organized," she says. The sister and brother seemed much more carefree in comparison. At eleven o'clock, Lea decided to stop eating meat for ethical reasons.

Help not offer for everyone

Eating disorders often begin with diet or special dietary restriction. Switzerland has a large number of cases compared to Europe. According to a study from the University of Zurich, about 3.5% of the population suffers from a serious eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating . The European average is 2.5%. 5.3% extra suffer from a lighter form.

Although the offer of therapy in big cities is good, not all the help is available in all of Switzerland. Only a little less than half of the men affected and two-thirds of the women receive support. Anorexia nervosa is the highest mortality mental illness. About 5.5% of those affected die of hunger.

Treat as soon as possible

In order to improve treatment options, experts around Dagmar Pauli have now founded the Swiss Society for Eating Disorders (SGES). At the inaugural ceremony last week, Gabriella Milos, who heads the Center for Eating Disorders at the University Hospital Zurich, spoke of a patient who had found himself in the hospital. Intensive care unit at age 48 with a body mass index (BMI) of 10. A BMI of 20 to 25 is considered a normal weight. With a body height of 1.70 meters, you are with a BMI of 10 only 30 kg – and in acute danger of death. The patient told Milos that she was suffering from eating disorders for 30 years but that she was undergoing treatment for the first time.

We now know that early treatment of eating disorders is crucial. Lea was lucky that her parents do not hesitate too long. "It's better to be warned when weight loss is not massive yet," says Pauli. In young patients, the role of parents is very important. In recent years, they have become more involved in treatment. For mothers and fathers, the disease is a major challenge. "If you are afraid that your own child will starve, you have to recover incredibly to not constantly urge him to eat," says Lea's mother.

These pressure tests lead to conflicts, the therapists try to defuse them and work in the direction of a strategy "All together against the disease". The clinic set up food rules that Leah had to follow. For example, when her parents were cooking, she was not allowed to come into the kitchen to avoid worrying about high calorie ingredients. Many parents get angry when their children suffer from eating disorders. "Do not consider parents guilty," says Pauli.

Experts see another reason for this increase at a young age: girls have always compared each other. But social media brings a new dimension. Today, children and teens on the platforms compare to digitally imitated images. Filters and Photoshop create realities that have little to do with real bodies. Pauli is fighting against the exaggerated slimming ideal in Western cultures.

In his book Size Zero. Understanding, recognizing and treating eating disorders, "she says, for us, that female curves are back to normal." With puberty, the estrogen hormone gets into action in girls, this that ensures their silhouette, "says Pauli.These curves belonged to the nature of a woman and were not something to fight.The German expert Herpertz-Dahlmann sees similar links because in the Western industrialized countries, eating disorders are significantly more common than in cultures where the ideal of beauty is different.

When parents go on a diet

In fact, according to the student survey of the city of Zurich in 2017, young people are not very happy with their bodies. Fifty per cent of 14-year-old girls think they should be thinner and 36 per cent at the time of interrogation. 75% of the boys wanted to have more muscles contracted, which is physically impossible at 14 years old. Eating disorders usually begin with the onset of puberty, which has also progressed today.

Pauli observes a second-generation effect. Today's teens have parents who have grown themselves with ideals and diets. Sometimes they transmitted this awareness. She remembers several cases in which a girl was found at the clinic, which had initially started a diet with her mother or older sister.

The psychiatrist hopes that schools will not focus on preventing obesity as they have for a decade. In the canton of Bern, the Bodytalk PEP prevention program, which aims to help young people to acquire a positive image of themselves and their bodies, is already making efforts in this direction. Recently, there is a special version. She calls Bodytalk PEP Junior, to seduce the younger ones.

Lea is now 13 and enters the first class of gymnastics. During a stay in the hospital, it is rare. After about nine months of intense therapy, she is now recovering well.

* Name changed

(Editors Tamedia)

Created: 07.07.2019, 17:28 hours