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Med J Aust. 2009 Apr 20;190(8):410-4.

Burden of eating disorders in 5-13-year-old children in Australia.

Author information

1
Children's Hospital at Westmead, Sydney, NSW. sloanem@chw.edu.au

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

To collect nationally representative epidemiological data on early-onset eating disorders (EOEDs) in children.

DESIGN:

Prospective, active surveillance using the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit with key informant design.

SETTING:

Child health specialists in Australia (July 2002 to June 2005).

PATIENTS:

Incident cases of EOEDs in children aged 5-13 years.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:

Disease rates, demographic characteristics, clinical features and complications, hospitalisation, psychological comorbidity, and concordance of clinical features with Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV) criteria.

RESULTS:

We identified 101 children aged 5-13 years with EOEDs (median age, 12.2 years; range, 5.5-13.9 years), of whom one in four were boys. Most were hospitalised (78%), and the mean duration of hospitalisation was 24.7 days (range, 1-75 days). More than 70% of inpatients were admitted to specialised eating disorder units in paediatric teaching hospitals. Among inpatients, 37% met DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa; although 61% had life-threatening complications of malnutrition, only 51% met weight criteria. Psychological symptoms were similar to those in adults with anorexia nervosa: 67% of inpatients met both psychological diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa (fear of weight gain/fatness and misperception of body shape). Of 19 postmenarchal girls, 18 had secondary amenorrhoea. Nasogastric feeding was used in 58% of inpatients, and 34% received psychotropic medications.

CONCLUSIONS:

This is the first prospective national study of EOEDs. It demonstrates the limitations of applying DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa to young children; the high proportion of boys affected by EOEDs; and the significant psychological comorbidity and high frequency of hospitalisation associated with EOEDs. Potentially life-threatening medical complications are common at presentation, suggesting possible missed diagnoses and a need for education of health professionals. The study underlines the severity of EOEDs and the need for joint medical and psychiatric specialist management.

PMID:
19374611
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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