Celebrity culture and anorexic children

New figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that the number of children being treated for eating disorders has increased rapidly. In 2007-08, there were 1,718 children and teenagers in hospital due to illnesses such as anorexia, but this rose to more than 6,500 by 2010-11, the most recent years for which statistics were available.

Furthermore, 443 of these were youngsters who had not yet reached their 13th birthday, three times as many as was the case four years earlier.

Experts warned that youngsters are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with images permeating from a celebrity culture in which thin bodies are celebrated, larger ones are ridiculed and children are sexualised.

"There is a toxic combination of pressures on children which is quite unrelenting and incessant; there is little escape," Susan Ringwood from the eating disorder charity Beat told the Daily Telegraph.

She added that cyber-bullying and puberty arriving at an earlier age are also contributing to feelings of self-consciousness and inadequacy in pre-teens.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Gordon Milson comments:

"The increase in numbers of children seeking support for easting disorders reported by the Health and Social Care Information Centre are of enormous concern. However, whilst highlighting so-called 'celebrity culture' has become popular it is important that we do not attempt to over simplify the complex nature of societal influence and the development of potentially serious mental health difficulties.

"Celebrity culture contains many facets; however, there is little doubt the the focus on weight and appearance as newsworthy is a recent phenomenon to which children are more exposed to. Part of the reason for this is that that the nature of news and celebrity has developed with the internet and social media to the extent where news is available at  all times, on phones, computers and continually permeates everyday life.

"Children have access to views, good and bad on celebrity and other cultural phenomenon like never before. Weight and appearance is seen by some media outlets as a basis for judgment and is often front page news.  This increased emphasis on body style and appearance is potentially reshaping children's means of self-evaluation. 

There are other factors which ought not to be removed form the debate such as the impact of austerity on families, the media denigreation of young people's academic achievements, the attitudes we take to food in society and within families and more interpersonal and intrapersonal factors which are well researched and considered in the aetiology of eating disorders. 

"Whilst increased concern in relation 'celebrity culture' is appropriate, the links from this to a child with an eating disorder are unlikely to be directly and unilaterally causal and we need to be cautious of ignoring the many other influences and factors which impact on children and their well-being.

"Greater emphasis ought to be placed on the need for children and their families to have access to timely support, early intervention is as important in this area as any others and these figures highlight even further that increased funding for children's mental health services ought to receive urgent attention."

Dr Milson also referred to an article on the Indpendent website by Ilona Burton, where she looks at the highly controversial pro-ana websites and offers a cautions notice in again seeing them as solely to blame for the increase in children with eating disorders.

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