Paramedics initially worried that Michelle Wagner had suffered a seizure last summer when the 9-year-old fainted in a bank while running errands with her mother, Tammy Wagner. On a follow-up visit to her pediatrician, however, the doctor suggested a different cause for the incident: Michelle's weight hadn't changed in two years. Later, at Nationwide Children's Hospital, she received a diagnosis that her mother never would have suspected: an eating disorder.
"It totally blindsided us," said Tammy Wagner, who lives in Columbus. "Like, what? We're talking about our 9-year-old."
But what is often thought of as a teenage-girl problem is growing most among younger children, both girls and boys. From 1999 to 2006, eating-disorder hospitalizations for children younger than 12 increased by 119 percent, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Eating disorders at any age can be manifestations of anxiety, often triggered in people with perfectionist or rigid tendencies and more likely to occur in those who struggle with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or other psychological challenges.
Genetics also can play a role: Tammy Wagner underwent treatment for anorexia as a teenager, having weighed 98 pounds at her high-school graduation.
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