ANOREXIA is affecting patients as young as four years old in Irish eating disorder clinics.
Doctors have said that the age of presentation for disorders is widening and demand for services is on the increase.
Marie Campion, who founded the Marino Therapy Centre, said that she has seen cases as young as ages four and five and the oldest up to 60 who are presenting with anorexia, bulimia and emotional overeating.
"In a child that young, we would work with the family," she said. "It is amazing what can develop at an unconscious level."
Officially about 30pc of the population is reported to suffer from some form of eating distress, but Ms Campion believes the true figure is significantly higher.
"There are three hospital beds for treatment, but we would say too many people are coming out distressed," she said.
"The treatment is very much focused on weight and that is not the answer.
"The methods of treatment are out of date in this country and the focus is on the physical symptoms.
"Young people are absorbing all the negativity around them," she added.
The director of the clinic said that children in primary school should not be learning about food and are often brought up "in anxiety" about eating the correct foods.
Teresa Moorhead, director of clinical services at another centre, Lois Bridges in Sutton, said she had about 1,500 requests from Irish people seeking treatment who did not have the sufficient financial backing.
However, they could not always obtain funding from the HSE or insurance companies to access treatment.
She said, although the HSE did support some people to go private, generally this was only when the person is "really, really sick" and the decision was made based on economics.
"You can be sure there is someone with an eating disorder getting medical treatment in every hospital in the country," Ms Moorhead added.