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Is my 7-year-old developing an eating disorder?
Q: My 7-year-old daughter doesn't like to eat. She's a little underweight; nothing the doctor is concerned about. No matter what I make for her, she doesn't like it or it will take her an hour to eat it. I recently found out she is throwing her lunch away at school— a lunch that she picks out and I make. Is this the beginning of an eating disorder? What should I be feeding her? She has been this way all her life; it's just getting worse now.
A: Your daughter’s behaviour is frustrating to a conscientious mother, but it isn’t life-threatening. A far greater child health problem is obesity, which is rampant in American children. You say that your daughter has always been a picky eater, which in a way is reassuring. It indicates that a stressful school experience is not likely to be the cause. If the problem had appeared only since she started to school, I would suspect stress, either academic or social, as a major causative explanation.

You indicate that she is a little underweight but that her doctor isn’t concerned. That is very important information, as he can evaluate her weight in terms of height and age. If the doctor isn’t concerned, I wouldn’t be concerned. You might want to discuss with your doctor the possibility that your daughter might need a particular nutritional supplement and provide what is recommended. You may well be making the situation worse by pressuring your daughter to eat or commenting too often about how thin she is. It may be that she has learned this as a way to get and keep your attention, and she is playing it for all it is worth.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education