Factors that lead to eating disorders in children/adolescents
Childhood and adolescence are joyful, painful, and messy all at once—and they are also the times when people are most vulnerable to eating disorders.
Eating disorders are psychological illnesses involving unhealthy eating thoughts and beliefs. Major eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and orthorexia.
The following briefly describes common signs of eating disorders:
  • Extreme dieting Drastic and sporadic shifts in eating patterns
  • Becoming preoccupied with food
  • Poor body image
  • Intense exercising
  • Binge-eating

It may be associated with depression, anxiety and alcohol use disorder.


You know the signs and symptoms—but what exactly causes eating disorders?
From genetic to environmental causes, eating disorders are complex illnesses that stem from a variety of factors. It is important for caregivers to understand the risk factors of eating disorders so they may mitigate the development.

Genetics play a significant role in whether or not a person develops an eating disorder. People with family members who suffer from disordered eating are at greater risk of developing eating disorders. For example, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry, female relatives of individuals with anorexia are 11 times more likely to develop the disorder.

Pre-determined personality traits also contribute to the development of eating disorders. For example, studies have shown that people with anorexia are more likely to be perfectionists.
Psychological Factors
Trauma and stress are challenging for people of all ages, but they tend to be especially hard on young people, as they do not yet have the tools to manage their emotions effectively.
If a child undergoes difficult life events such as bullying, a death in the family, or living in a dysfunctional household, they may experience deep trauma. This trauma can spiral into a variety of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, mood swings and eating disorders.

Stress is another factor that can trigger eating disorders. Stress can stem from academics, family problems, and more, causing the child to feel as if they have lost control. Many children become hyperfocused on weight, shape and their meals in an attempt to regain control over their lives.

Environmental Factors
From family and friends to the media, a child’s environment can have a negative impact on his risk of developing an eating disorder.
If a child grows up in a family that highly values physical appearance and/or obsesses over diet and weight, she may learn that it’s necessary to be thin to be accepted or loved, leading to disordered eating patterns. Parental indifference, overprotective parenting, and family conflict are other risk factors.
The media is another institution often criticised for causing eating disorders. From stick-thin TikTok influencers and Photoshopped models on Instagram to TV shows on Netflix, children and adolescents are constantly bombarded by images and messages about how they should look. If a child’s appearance veers away from conventional beauty ideals, they may develop an eating disorder as a way to achieve the ideal body type.
Peer pressure also plays a significant role. As children undergo puberty, they become more aware of their bodies as well as the bodies of their friends. They may feel pressure to meet physical standards of beauty upheld by society. They may experience body dissatisfaction, causing them to diet and control their eating habits in an attempt to look like everyone else around them.

How Parents and Caregivers Can Mitigate Risk Factors

Parents and caregivers can help their children avoid developing an eating disorder by emphasising health, rather than physical appearance. This means teaching children that they don’t have to be thin to be attractive. Parents should also avoid dieting in front of children and stigmatising overweight or obese people. If a parent has an eating disorder themselves, it is crucial that they receive treatment and heal. Finally, parents should create a warm, supportive, and loving environment for their children and, if needed, help them access quality medical care and mental health counselling.

What to Do When You Suspect an Eating Disorder

The effects of untreated eating disorders can be debilitating. They can lead to serious health problems—such as heart damage, gastrointestinal damage, and loss of menstrual cycle—and even death.
If you suspect that your child has an eating disorder, don’t wait. Eating disorders are challenging but treatable, and Private Space Medical Centre can help guide your child through the process of treatment and recovery.
Zamiya Noor
Private Space Medical