IRISH children as young as five are facing eating disorders and their parents struggle to find help, an expert has warned.
ALTHOUGH the problem has traditionally been associated with girls, medics are now treating schoolboys as well.
Suzanne Horgan of the Eating Disorder Resource Centre of Ireland said she had seen a huge increase in the numbers of parents seeking help for young children with eating issues.
"I have found that in the last two or three years I have had parents ringing me with concerns about their children. Kids as young as five or six who are beginning to develop body issues," she explained.
Ms Horgan said the problem had only emerged in the past three years but was increasing.
"Three years ago I would never have received a call on this but now there has been a huge increase in the number of parents ringing me looking for services that can help."
In one case the parents of a five-year-old boy contacted the centre with fears that he was developing an eating disorder.
"He was showing signs of purging and they were very worried. Obviously with cases like this you have to be careful as it can be reflux, but they were looking at his behaviour also and were worried," she said.
"I received two calls in the last few months from parents of young boys and they were only about 10 or 11.
"The parents are terrified, we sometimes refer to anorexia as the slow suicide because you can't force someone to eat, you just have to watch them."
Ms Horgan added that parents have nowhere to turn.
"We don't have the resources to deal with children of that age, we barely have the adult resources," she said.
Her comments come on the back of a report by MPs in the UK which found children as young as five were developing body image issues and were concerned about their size.
Harriet Parsons services co-ordinator with Bodywhys said they were not surprised.
"Children as young as five are in the home picking up messages from home and media on what makes a good person, what they look like and what their appearance is," she said.
Rebecca Becker, a child and teen counsellor with Oasis Counselling Services in Dublin said she had also noticed an increase of tweens or pre teens with body image issues.
Any parent with a concern about their child's eating can contact Bodywhys on 1890200444 or Oasis Counselling Services on 01-6268519.