Sadie was like most 10 year old girls\u2014she liked swimming and soccer, horses and rainbows, and catching fireflies in the summertime. As a fourth-grade student, she was especially concerned about spelling bees and cared very much about keeping her straight-A record. She\u2019d gotten a C once on a social studies test and her parents would have thought she\u2019d lost a pet. Her mother called Sadie \u201cMiss Fretful\u201d on occasion because she tended to worry enough for the whole family. Even otherwise relaxing beach trips could be spent with Sadie somewhere fretting over the possibility of jellyfish stings or the terror of impending sun poisoning. And she\u2019d been a perfectionist even at the age of 2, when she\u2019d insisted on helping her mother fold towels and had spent 20 minutes on one wash cloth, getting it just so. Sadie\u2019s family, of course, found all these things to just be, well, Sadie\u2014her own traits and idiosyncrasies, no different in the grand scheme than anyone else. So no one noticed when Sadie began restricting her food; she\u2019d always been a picky eater. At first she despised bread, then no to meat. Finally even sweets were off limits, which had her brother amused\u2014who didn\u2019t like cupcakes? Weirdo Sadie, that\u2019s who. And she\u2019d always been a slender girl; her dad liked to call her \u201cstring bean.\u201d It wasn\u2019t until she was sent to the nurse\u2019s office after a fainting episode on the playground that anyone took realized something was wrong. The nurse noticed the dark circles under Sadie\u2019s eyes and how especially thin she looked. When she was weighed, Sadie had lost 11 pounds\u2014down from the 65 pounds she\u2019d weighed only two months before when school had started. A 10-year-old girl should not be fainting, and she should be growing, not losing weight. When malnutrition due to parental neglect was ruled out, Sadie\u2019s parents were instructed to take her to a clinic that specialized in eating disorders and which even treated children. But they were unnerved, certain something else had to be wrong. How could their little girl, not even a teenager yet, have an eating disorder? She still loved kittens more than most people and was nothing like her 13-year-old sister, queen of the \u201cselfie\u201d photographs, despite constant complaints about her hair, skin, or even weight. It turned out, however, that Sadie was among a growing number of children being diagnosed with eating disorders, all under the age of 12. Childhood Eating Disorders Prevalence and Causes A 2012 CNN news report discussed an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality study that \u201cshowed that hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased by 119 percent between 1999 and 2006.\u201d Researchers are uncertain what causes eating disorders but a combination of factors is implicated. While there is a strong biological link\u2014a disease such as anorexia nervosa has high heritability\u2014social and cultural indicators are also strongly correlated. Eating disorders can be set off by a stress event or trauma such as a move, parental divorce, or the loss of a loved one. Families that emphasize weight and physical beauty over internal beauty may be more vulnerable to the incidence of eating disorders in children, but they can occur even in families in which food, weight, and physical appearance are not subjects of focus. Children who develop eating disorders frequently have perfectionist tendencies, have trouble with anxiety, and may deal with obsessive-compulsive behaviors. These children tend to be highly self-critical and may also exhibit symptoms of depression. According to Dina Zeckhausen, a psychologist and founder of the Eating Disorders Information Network, these children are also likely to be dealing with external pressures of some kind, such as bullying or sexual abuse. Zeckhausen explains that anorexia, for example, may be a way for a child to feel in control. Eating Disorder Symptoms Parents of children diagnosed with eating disorders often say they were unaware of their child\u2019s problem until it had become severe. Reading the signs and symptoms takes an observant eye and an open ear. \tQuestions such as, \u201cAm I fat?\u201d or negative comments about weight or body parts \tSudden loss of interest in foods a child once found enjoyable \tEating less frequently or requesting smaller portions; cutting out certain foods \tSneaking or hoarding foods \tWeight loss \tLow energy \tHair loss \tExcessive exercise Treatment for childhood eating disorders usually requires outside help, and is most successful when caught early. For mothers who have experienced eating disorders, the importance of speaking positively about one\u2019s body in front of a child cannot be over-emphasized. Don\u2019t let her hear you criticize your weight and play up the importance of internal traits and qualities of character. Attentiveness to a child\u2019s behaviors around food and self-observation are important to warding off potential problems.