Anorexia Nervosa in Children and Adolescents

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Anorexia Nervosa In Children and Adolescents 1

Anorexia Nervosa is a rapidly growing issue in today’s society. The disease is identified by the refusal to maintain a healthy weight, an irrational fear of gaining weight despite weighing too little, loss of the menstrual cycle in women, and an inaccurate view of one’s body, often referred to as dysmorphia. At one point in time, this illness was mainly associated with adolescents. Now, children as young as five years old are being treated for Anorexia (Borland). The DSM criteria for children are slightly altered, and consist of “determined weight loss…abnormal cognitions regarding weight,” and a “morbid preoccupation with weight” (Khan). It is shocking to find children so young focusing on their weight, counting calories and deliberately exercising with the goal of ridding themselves of fat. I believe that the media, biology, and a child’s experiences and personality all play a role in the development of Anorexia Nervosa.

Children are exposed to so much more these days. Rather than playing outside, they tend to park themselves in front of the television or a laptop. Stick thin models, poorly proportioned dolls, and other such things seem so normal in our time that many parents don’t think twice about what their children might be absorbing. In the case of Dana, an anorexic eight-year-old girl, media was most likely not the cause, but rather a trigger for her disease. Her mother claimed that one of the programs her daughter would often watch was “The Biggest Loser,” a show that revolves around dramatic weight loss, diet and exercise. Dana began

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falling victim to the illness by simply cutting out sweets, and then junk food. After some time, she eliminated more and more foods from her diet and began exercising excessively. She would work herself to the point where she would cry to her mother out of exhaustion, while expressing her wish to continue working out (Dana). While weight loss programs are triggering, something that is more common for children to be exposed to is a prime model of Anorexia – the Barbie doll. Mothers have long complained about Barbie’s unrealistic, unattainable figure, but one college student managed to take things a step further. Galia Slayen, a young woman who formerly battled Anorexia, created a life-sized Barbie doll, made to scale. Along with the shocking image of the doll, Slayen provides us with some interesting statistics. Barbie dolls are intended for girls aged from three to twelve, and as a woman, her measurements would be 39 inches at the bust, 18 inches at the waist, and 33 inches at the hips. Her shoes would be a size 3. Further, she tells us that “at 5’9” tall and weighing 110 lbs, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 and fit the weight criteria for anorexia. She likely would not menstruate” (Slayen). For reference, a BMI of less than 18.5 is officially classified as underweight. Not only that, but she tells us that with such proportions, Barbie would not be able to stand on her own two feet. She would be forced to walk on her hands and knees. This is a rather disturbing image, not to mention frighteningly inhuman. On top of all this, Slayen ends by informing us of Slumber Party Barbie, who was released in 1965 and came with a scale that read 110 pounds, as well as a book bearing the title “How To Lose Weight.”

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Inside, it instructs, “Don’t eat” (Slayen). Ideally, a slumber party doll would come with a pajama set, maybe a robe and a teddy bear. The fact that she was sold with a scale and a poor guide to weight loss speaks volumes.

We won’t place all of the blame on Barbie, though. This October, a book geared towards children from four to eight years old was released. It is entitled, “Maggie Goes On A Diet.” The book’s synopsis reads, “Maggie has so much potential that has been hiding under her extra weight. This inspiring story is about a 14-year-old...
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