40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. Hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 years of age increased by 119 percent in a study from 1999 to 2006. 1 in 10 cases of eating disorders involve males. For any parent concerned about their child\u2019s eating habits, these are certainly sobering statistics. \u201cPresence of eating disorders in young children is on the rise,\u201d says Kate Fisch, LCSW, psychotherapist and founder of Northside Mental Health in Indianapolis, who has been working with individuals suffering from eating disorders for over 10 years. According to Fisch, the average age of onset for children diagnosed with eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder is typically around 11 or 12 years old, \u201chowever, some practitioners are seeing eating disorders in children as young as 6.\u201d What causes an eating disorder?\u00a0 Eating disorders are complex issues, with biological, social and psychological components say Fisch and Dr. Valerie Weesner, Clinical Director of the Indiana University Health Charis Center for Eating Disorders. Fisch says that sometimes a genetic predisposition can make a child vulnerable to developing an eating disorder, with elements in their environment serving as a \u201ctrigger.\u201d Triggers could include psychological stress from bullying, a parent\u2019s divorce, medical issues or even dealing with puberty. \u201cWhen I talk to parents about why their child has an eating disorder, I start by emphasizing that parents are not to blame,\u201d says Fisch. Kids attempting to handle difficult emotions, like grief for example, may develop issues with food as well. According to Fisch, young children are often not equipped to deal with complicated, abstract emotions. They may choose to focus on something more \u201cblack and white\u201d that they do have some control over, such as what they eat. \u201cThis might be their way of avoiding the overwhelming distress of grief,\u201d says Fisch. Eating disorders can even develop in children who feel pressure to become healthy and physically fit. \u201cA lot of the kids we\u2019ve seen started out trying to get healthy, which resulted in weight loss, which then resulted in an eating disorder,\u201d says Weesner. She adds that it is far more important to encourage children to consume all the food groups in a balanced way than it is to teach them about counting calories. \u201cOur Charis Center mantra is: all foods can fit, there are no bad foods, and moderation is key.\u201d How can I tell if my child may have an eating disorder?\u00a0 Weesner and Fisch say there are several red flags for parents to be aware of that could indicate a potential problem, such as kids who: \tIncrease or decrease portion sizes at meals, skip meals altogether or hoard food \tSpend excessive time in the bathroom or excessively exercise \tHave frequent mood changes, tearfulness, isolate from family and friends or become more easily angered \tFrequently describe foods as \u201chealthy,\u201d \u201cunhealthy\u201d or \u201cfattening\u201d \tHave a dramatic weight loss, or other drastic weight fluctuations How can I support my child?\u00a0 Eating disorders are serious and can result in chronic health issues including complications with the heart, hypertension, stunted growth and permanent loss of bone matter. Fortunately, these disorders are also treatable. According to Fisch, children who receive early eating disorder specific intervention and have their family involved in the process in a positive way have the best outcomes. Weesner adds, \u201cIt is important to continue working with until they can consume a wide range of foods, eat socially and have developed a multitude of healthy coping strategies.\u201d If you are at all concerned about your child\u2019s eating habits, open up a dialogue that is supportive and non-judgmental. Talk with your pediatrician for guidance and next steps. Getting the support your child needs, and you need, can help everyone move toward a healthier path.