CHILDREN as young as seven have been admitted to hospitals for eating disorders.
A peak support group has reported a doubling of calls about children under the age of 12 in the past decade, the Herald Sun reported.
Complications from malnutrition for young people with anorexia nervosa include retarded growth, osteoporosis, infertility and changes in brain structure.
Eating Disorders Victoria said children aged seven, eight and nine had been admitted to hospital for treatment, including psychological care and help to gain weight.
Executive officer Kirsty Greenwood said eating disorders in children were rare, but there was rising concern that anorexia sufferers were getting younger. Start
"Concerns about body image, and dieting behaviours, are presenting young and younger," she said. "It would have been unheard of 10 years ago to see a child aged seven with an eating disorder."
Eating disorders in children could be under-diagnosed because there wasn't enough research. The Royal Children's Hospital said it could not release figures for privacy reasons, but there were only a handful of cases of children under 12 admitted for eating disorders in the past five years.
In Sydney, the Children's Hospital at Westmead revealed rare cases where pre-adolescent children as young as 10 had been treated. Its eating disorders clinic, which caters for ages seven to 17, has experienced a 270 per cent increase in admissions since 2000.
Experts say children are being bombarded with messages about looking good, are pressured to wear sexualised, adult-style clothing and see celebrity kids like Suri Cruise wearing high heels and lipstick. A dieting culture and over-emphasis on the "obesity epidemic" had led to an unhealthy fixation on weight instead of being healthy.
Eating Disorders Victoria last year fielded 79 calls for advice on children under 12 with potential eating disorders, about double the 2001 figures. This compares to 576 adolescents and just under 2000 adults.
The Butterfly Foundation CEO Christine Morgan said early-onset eating disorders were complicated.