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New study warns young children may be susceptible to eating disorders

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(NEW YORK) -- Children as young as 9 years old have engaged in disordered eating behaviors, according to a new analysis published in JAMA this week.

The analysis, which was published Monday and based on data from nearly 12,000 children, showed that 5% of children -- both boys and girls -- engaged in binge eating, one of many types of disordered eating behaviors.

"It starts younger than a lot of us may think," ABC News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said on "Good Morning America" Wednesday.

Disordered eating behaviors can lead to eating disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, where someone may avoid or severely restrict the amount of food they eat; bulimia nervosa, where someone may overeat and then vomit or overexercise afterward; and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), an extreme version of picky eating, where someone is selective about the foods they eat.

Researchers say such issues are common: More than 28 million in the U.S. are living with an eating disorder, which often starts during the teenage years.

"When they found 9- [and] 10-year-olds starting to engage in binge eating, that really shifts our timeline to try to be more aware earlier and try to intervene," Ashton said.

How to spot warning signs of an eating disorder

Parents may often be the first to notice disordered eating behaviors at home. Here are some red flags to watch out for:

  • A sudden change in appetite
  • Sudden avoidance of meal times
  • Frequent calorie counting
  • Overexercising
  • Poor body image or constant focus on weight or talk of weight gain or weight loss

What parents can do

If parents notice their child may be developing or already have an unhealthy relationship with food, Ashton recommends seeking professional help. As a starting point, parents can begin by initiating a conversation with their child's pediatrician.

Ashton added that parents should keep their child's privacy in mind and anticipate kids may act out, especially when they're nearing their pre-teen years.

If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or NationalEatingDisorders.org.

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