Eating disorders affecting children as young as 5 and 6

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Children young enough to be in kindergarten are susceptible to eating disorders, just like their teenage counterparts, according to Dr. Timothy Brewerton of the Hearth Center for Healing.

In the state of South Carolina alone, nearly 50,000 children are fighting an eating disorder. According to Brewerton, who has been helping kids with eating disorders for almost 30 years, eating disorders are more prevalent in our schools and our community than we realize.

Brewerton says he sees children as young as 5 and 6 with eating disorders because a child's self image develops at that age. Brewerton describes eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, like an addiction that takes over a person's life.

Parent Margaret Yeakel says that her daughter Sarah was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, a disorder characterized by refusing to eat food for fear of gaining weight, at age 14.

What started as healthy eating and exercise habits became more of an obsession, according to Yeakel.

"She felt overweight and could not see she was a diminishing image of herself," says Yeakel.

According to Brewerton, anorexia is the most lethal of all mental illnesses, as it can lead to suicide or death. He says 80 percent of people who seek treatment can overcome the illness, but recovery can be months or even years.

After years of therapy for the disorder, Yeakel says her daughter Sarah is now a college student and doing well.

According to Brewerton, you can identify an eating disorder by looking for changes in eating behavior, mood, exercise, evidence of vomiting, laxative use, and changes in weight.

He says the earlier you intervene, the more positive the outcome.

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