Being very overweight or obese can cause a lot of problems, particularly with health. Quite often, someone who is overweight can lose weight simply by eating more healthily. It sounds easy, but they may need help to find a way of doing this.
A lot of young people, many of whom are not overweight in the first place, want to be thinner. They often try to lose weight by dieting or skipping meals. For some, worries about weight become an obsession. This can turn into a serious eating disorder. The information is this section focuses on the most common eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Both of these eating disorders are more common in girls, but do occur in boys.
It may be difficult for parents or teachers to tell the difference between ordinary teenage dieting and a more serious problem. If you are concerned about a child or young person's weight and how they are eating, discuss it with them and/or their parents and advise then to consult their family doctor.
Eating disorders are caused by a number of different things:
It's important to remember that, if allowed to continue unchecked, both anorexia and bulimia can be life-threatening conditions. Over time, they are harder to treat, and the effects become more serious.
If you think a child or young person you are working with may be developing an eating disorder, don't be afraid to ask them if they are worried about themselves. Some young people will not want you to interfere. These simple suggestions are useful to help young people to maintain a healthy weight and avoid eating disorders:
When eating problems make family meals stressful, it is important to seek professional advice. Their general practitioner will be able to advise them about what specialist help is available locally and will be able to arrange a referral. Working with the family is an important part of treatment.
If the eating disorder causes physical ill health, it is essential to get medical help quickly. If the child or young person you're working with receives help from a specialist early on, admission to hospital is unlikely. If untreated, there is a risk of infertility, thin bones (osteoporosis), stunted growth and even death.
Some people are more at risk than others. Risk factors include being female, being previously overweight and lacking self-esteem. Sensitive or anxious individuals, who are having difficulty becoming independent are also more at risk. The families of young people with eating disorders often find change or conflict particularly difficult, and may be unusually close or over-protective.
See our links page for further advice.