HOUSTON - Healthcare professionals are seeing a drastic increase in eating disorders, and the age it’s affecting is getting younger and the nationwide problem is hitting us locally.
In fact, there’s a waiting list for children to be seen with eating disorders at Texas Children’s Hospital.
"We are getting calls almost on a daily basis from pediatricians and primary care providers in the community who have patients who are in their office and need to be seen, and we have a waiting list because there are just way more patients than we saw in 2019," said Dr. Albert Hergenroeder, the Division Chief of Adolescent Medicine at Texas Children's Hospital.
He says the youngest being treated has been 8 years old. Parents, as you can imagine, are horrified.
"They are frustrated that they can’t manage this as an outpatient. As an inpatient when they get admitted, it is really a shock to the family and the patient that the condition has deteriorated to the extent it has to be in a medical unit," said Dr. Hergenroeder.
The hospital is a step taken to treat symptoms of severe forms of the disorder. Those include malnutrition, a low pulse, low heart rate, and low temperature to name a few. Hospitals work in conjunction with mental health centers like Eddins Counseling Group.
"It is hitting people in all different demographics more so, that is what we have seen," said Rachel Eddins, a licensed professional counselor with Eddins Counseling Group. "Younger ages, male/female, older ages as well. So it’s impacting a wider range of clients."
"I think what it has pointed out to me is that teenagers need structure. When they don’t have the structure that they need, i.e. going to school, those that have conditions like eating disorders, don’t do well with adults not seeing them during the day," said Dr. Hergenroeder.
So adults in their life can look for signs. It’s harder to spot them in preteens and teenagers, but some include:
- Make excuses for not eating
- Fear of stomach aches
- Excessive bowel movements
- Worry about body image
If you notice something, adults should approach the child in a supportive way according to health experts.
"Rather than saying you need to eat or you need to do this, saying things that are more emotionally supportive. So things like ‘I am concerned about you.’ That sort of thing. To be in that position of support. To provide structure," said Eddins.