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Social media blamed for eating disorders in kids

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Around 1,700 eating disorder cases are diagnosed a year

Around 1,700 eating disorder cases are diagnosed a year

Around 1,700 eating disorder cases are diagnosed a year

Children as young as eight in Ireland are being diagnosed with eating disorders, with social media increasingly being blamed for contributing to the alarming trend.

Watchdogs have warned that the numbers of youngsters suffering from anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating are on the rise.

Just under 190,000 people in Ireland have an eating disorder, with around 1,700 new cases diagnosed every year.

However, support groups fear that more younger children, many of who have an unhealthy attachment to their smartphones and tablets, appear to be falling prey to eating disorders.

"The age of onset for eating disorders used to be 15 to 24, but it's now 13 to 18," said Harriet Parsons, of Bodywhys.

"Younger people are now developing eating disorders, and we're hearing about sufferers who are 10, 11 or 12, and even younger - eight or nine."

Studies suggest social media can lead to eating disorders in youngsters because it makes them more impulsive.

A Canadian study of eight to 11-year-olds found that those who used smartphones more than two hours a day and slept less than nine hours a night were more impulsive.

"Impulsive behaviour is associated with eating disorders, behavioural addictions and substance abuse," said lead researcher Dr Michelle Guerrero, of the University of Ottawa.

Pressure

Experts from Bodywhys have also identified social media as a "contributory factor" to eating disorders in young people.

"We are all exposed to pressure around things like body image, food and health and exercise," Ms Parsons said.

"The pressure is likely to increase if you have a smartphone or access to social media.

"Children are growing up faster, but it also depends on the personality type. Those who are vulnerable can be high achievers or perfectionists, all-or-nothing type personalities.

"If they see certain images on social media, they can get it in their head that they're not a good person if they don't look a certain way."

Eating Disorders Awareness Week runs from today until Sunday. This week the HSE will launch an app to help spots signs of eating disorders in kids.