Some 600 children under age 13, including 197 between ages five and nine, were treated for eating disorders over the past three years, according to newly released statistics from British hospitals.
Disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, the figures reveal that more than 2,100 children were treated for eating disorders before they reached 16, a sharp spike from years prior.
The numbers are likely to be an underestimate since some hospitals refused to release data and others only disclosed information for children admitted once they were severely emaciated and excluded those treated as outpatients.
Some experts believe children (most of them girls) are internalizing the size zero obsessions of celebrity culture.
"The ideal figure promoted for women these days is that of a girl, not an adult woman. Girls see the pictures in magazines of extremely thin women and think that is how they should be," Susan Ringwood, chief executive of eating disorders charity B-eat, told the Telegraph.
"That can leave them fearful of puberty, and almost trying to stave it off."
According to Canada's National Eating Disorders Information Centre, "Prevalence rates of anorexia and bulimia appear to increase during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood."
Other experts think the celebrity factor is overblown: "Models and other society influences are, in our experience, rarely a contributory factor to the development of eating and weight difficulties in young children," Great Ormond Street Hospital's Rachel Bryant-Waugh told the BBC.
A study published in April's British Journal of Psychiatry found that eating disorders affect about three in every 100,000 children between age five and 13 in England and Ireland. One in five of those diagnosed had a history of "early feeding problems," such as fussy eating.
Almost half of those diagnosed by age of 12 grew up with a close family member who suffered from anxiety or depression, among other mental health disorders.
According to one study, girls who reported teasing by family members were 1.5 times more likely to binge-eat and engage in extreme weight control behaviours five years later.
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