MONDAY, Oct. 13, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Eating disorders can begin before puberty and may be linked with other mental health issues, a new study shows.
Canadian researchers evaluated 215 children, aged 8 to 12, with eating problems. More than 15 percent of the kids made themselves vomit occasionally, and about 13 percent had bulimic-like behaviors. Fifty-two percent of the children had been hospitalized at least once due to their eating problem, and 48 percent had been received outpatient treatment, the researchers said.
Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by eating and purging, usually by vomiting or using laxatives.
"Many researchers believe that bulimia only appears at adolescence, but our (findings) indicate that the problem can arise much earlier. It is possible that it is currently under-diagnosed due to a lack of awareness and investigation," study leader Dominique Meilleur, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Montreal, said in a university news release.
Psychiatric problems were present in 36 percent of the children's families, and many of the children had mental health issues such as anxiety and mood and attention disorders, the study found.
Nearly 23 percent of the children said they had been mocked or insulted about their appearance, according to the study. The results were presented Oct. 7 at a meeting of the Eating Disorders Association of Canada in Vancouver.
"For some children, bullying can initiate or reinforce body image preoccupations and possibly lead to a change in eating behavior," Meilleur said.
Ninety-five percent of the children in the study had restrictive eating behaviors, 69 percent worried about putting on weight, and nearly 47 percent described themselves as "fat."
"These behaviors reflect the clinical presentations we observe in adolescents and support findings that body image is a preoccupation for some children as early as elementary school," Meilleur said.
The researchers also found that eating disorders are not a "girl problem."
The findings raise questions about the way eating disorders develop and are diagnosed, Meilleur concluded.
Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about eating disorders.