TORONTO (CP) - Parents are being urged to watch what they say about weight in front of their children and to nix comments on their body size and shape in a national eating disorders campaign launched Friday.
The campaign, comprised of television and print spots, targets parents of children aged eight to 12. Directors of eating disorders programs say they are hospitalizing more and more children with disordered eating.
"We're seeing a younger population of people as young as eight years old," said Dr. Debra Katzman, the medical director of the Eating Disorder Program at the Hospital for Sick Children. She said her child patients don't necessarily fit the strict weight loss criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, but have disordered eating behavior that's stopped their growth and development.
She said she doesn't know what's causing the increase in younger children with eating disorders because it is "such a multi-determined illness."
"It could be that we're getting better at diagnosing or maybe from a social perspective, there is more stress to be thin in order to fit in."
Jessica Pasini knows many factors brewed together causing her to develop anorexia, but she vividly remembers one of the triggers.
"I asked my mom why she kept dieting because she never stuck with it and it never really worked and my dad said, 'you're not so thin yourself'," Pasini said.
She is sure her dad didn't mean to hurt her, but said it definitely had an impact on her. She said it's something she'll never forget.
"It happened years ago, but I remember exactly where I was standing, the whole scene is crystal clear."
Pasini, 18, said that as young as nine, she went on diets with her mom, "just for fun, but now that I think about it, it's pretty twisted."
She said she doesn't entirely blame her parents but hopes the media campaign will lead others to be more careful.
The spots feature Hansel and Gretel depicting the relationship between self-esteem, body image and eating disorders. The campaign was created by the ZiG ad agency and Sheena's Place, a support centre for people affected by eating disorders.
Maggie Wygant, executive director of the centre, said she is determined to get her message out to parents.
"Parents say things in an innocent way, but from a child's point of view, (they) may register as criticism and become a problem down the road."
She said a number of psychological, social, physiological and biological factors have to be present in a person for them to develop an eating disorder. "But when those factors are present, that person is very vulnerable and a simple comment can be very detrimental."
A recent study by Toronto's University Health Network on teenage girls in Ontario found "alarming" numbers are worried about their weight.
Many admitted unhealthy attitudes toward food and 27 per cent reported practicing dieting methods that could lead to eating disorders.
© The Canadian Press, 2002