More and more children are dieting and developing eating disorders as the media increasingly promotes body image dissatisfaction. A national eating disorder treatment center noted that 63 percent of elementary school teachers are concerned about eating disorders in their classrooms.
"We have seen a 300 percent increase in the number of calls from preteen patients," said Amy Gerberry, program director and therapist at Remuda Ranch's children's program, in a released statement. "Eating disorders are increasing rapidly in preteen girls. Its because of our cultures obsession with dieting and thinness."
American Idol finalist Katharine McPhee, 22, revealed her struggle with bulimia to the public last week.
"Growing up in Los Angeles and spending all those years in dance class, I'd been conscious of body image at a young age," she told People magazine, "and I went through phases of exercising compulsively and starving myself."
McPhee, who was bulimic since 17 years of age, was treated at the Eating Disorder Center of California and said she gained control over the eating disorder.
Remuda Ranch's Gerberry expressed greater concern for even younger girls. According to the treatment center, 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of becoming fat and more than 50 percent of children aged nine and 10 report feeling better when dieting. And Remuda Ranch, which offers treatment for women and girls suffering from anorexia, bulimia and related issues, reported seeing patients as young as seven and eight years old.
"Children are being targeted with messages and products promoting diets and body image dissatisfaction," Gerberry added. "There are more and more sexualized and objectified images of children in the media today than in the past."
In addition to movies and teen or fashion magazines, Christian writers have pointed to the latest trend of chicklet literature such as Gossip Girl and The Pretty Committee for their focus on body image and condoning of ill behavior.
Popular Christian author Melody Carlson described the values presented in the books, targeting young adults and elementary school-aged girls, as "completely superficial."
Remuda Ranch warned parents of some of the signs of an eating disorder including weight loss, increased exercise, increased isolation, and decreased desire to participate in social activities.
Parental involvement is key, stressed both therapists and Christian leaders.
"I recommend parents talk openly about fears and behaviors," said Gerberry. "If there is concern, consult with a therapist."