Developing eating disorders
Adolescence is seen as the most common time to develop an eating disorder (Beat, 2014; Hill and Pallin, 1998; Manley et al, 2000), however recent headlines have publicised that children are developing eating disorders from a much earlier age than ever before (The Telegraph, 2011). In addition, psychologists have carried out studies on children, some as young as 6 years, to record their perception of body image and dieting, with some alarming results (Hill et al 1994; Pine 2001; Fabian and Thompson 1989). With this in mind and taking into consideration that most children spend the majority of their day in school, it has to be said that staff within the learning environment are in the prime position of noticing harmful eating behaviours before parents or carers and, therefore, have the important role of supporting pupils within the guidelines of government programmes like Every Child Matters (Department for Education and Skills, DfES, 2003) and National Healthy Schools (Department for Education and Employment, DfEE, 1999). Additionally, this raises the question of how much do primary schools actually know about eating disorders and as they are indeed the first point of contact regarding recognition of eating behaviours, should they offer a teaching programme to the children on eating disorders?
Identifying eating disorders
Eating disorders are a mental illness and are described as someone with an excessive concern for their body image and size (Bryant-Waugh & Lask, 1995). This leads to unacceptable and insufficient consumption of food either by starvation or over-eating, which is extremely serious and can cause complications in growth and overall wellbeing (Hamilton, 2007). Not only does it tamper with the development of a child, but it also sadly has been known to carry the risk of an early death (Muhlheim, 2012). In general, the signs that are first looked for when faced with poor eating conduct are bingeing and purging, however, there can be several hidden behaviours which need to be detected as well (Bardick et al, 2004). It is known for sufferers of eating disorders to come across as exceptionally organised; competitive; emotional and critical - of self and others. Additionally, they often have low self esteem; intense mood swings or are unable to express emotions (Vitousek and Manke, 1994). As well as severe dieting, other warning signs can include skipping meals or refusing to eat altogether, avoiding social situations which involve eating, wearing oversized clothes, exercising excessively, over weighing oneself and spending a great deal of time criticising their body size in front of a mirror. More symptoms include becoming withdrawn or starting to separate themselves from friends in order to hide their unhealthy behaviours (Vitousek and Manke, 1994).
The two main eating disorders are known as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. However, there are other cases who do not fall under either of these categories but are classified as people suffering from ‘eating disorders not otherwise specified’ - EDNOS. People with anorexia nervosa are deeply unhappy with their body image and are usually desperate to lose weight and in doing so, frequently starve themselves by eating very little or eating food which has no nutritional value (eg lettuce). When sitting down to eat, they often follow a sequence of cutting up and moving their food around their plate so it looks like they have eaten. Anorexia sufferers don’t realise the severity of their disorder and are very good at hiding their behaviour, meaning the disease is often well established before it is noticed fully by others (National Eating Disorders Association, 2014).
Bulimia nervosa is not common in young children but referrals in clinics have been increasing slowly over the past few years (Bryant-Waugh and Lask 1995). Although bulimia sufferers are of normal weight, they