Kids Binge Eating and the Rise in Obesity in American Children

Girl discussing Kids Binge EatingAcross the nation, health professionals, politicians, and the like have sounded the alarm on kids binge eating and childhood obesity. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012 [1]. In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents [1].

The response to this epidemic has sent many mixed messages to families, who may feel unsure about how to handle their growing children. Could a country that is hyper focused on obesity in our youth, in combination with a culture that is saturated with a disillusioned media, be leading to a rise in eating disorders in younger generations?

Rise in Obesity and Kids Binge Eating?

Although there has been a rise in obesity among American children and adolescents, there has been a coinciding increase in kids binge eating. With well-meaning parents and guardians uncertain how to deal with the misinformation that is circulating about childhood obesity, many may attempt to put their child or teenager on a diet. The fear that is associated with being obese can lead to many adverse changes in an attempt to control weight.

This can involve:

  • Restricting foods that are high in fat, sugar, or carbohydrates
  • Limiting portion sizes
  • Cutting out an entire category of food
  • Excessive exercise
  • Not allowing a child to have “fun foods” or participate in activities where certain foods are offered

While there may be good intentions behind these notions, dieting in childhood can be a catalyst for a severe eating disorder, such as binge eating disorder. Promoting dieting in children and teenagers is not only ineffective, but it can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors, further weight gain, and/or obesity [2].

Approximately two-thirds of new cases of eating disorders are in girls and women who have dieted [3].

Childhood Diets Can Lead to Unhealthy Food Relationships

Children who are exposed to dieting behaviors begin to distrust their bodies and natural intuitive instincts with food. Many children may develop an unhealthy relationship with food because of fear of certain things being “bad” or a general mistrust of their bodies and can lead to kids binge eating.

In other situations, when a certain food or food group becomes “forbidden”, either through restricting or prohibiting, this can actually make that food even more desirable for a child. These types of behaviors can lead to a sense of chaos of “lack of control” when it comes to eating and food choices.

This can lead to irregular eating patterns and behaviors with food, such as skipping meals, hoarding food, overeating, and more.

In the case that a child has developed binge eating disorder, they will exhibit specific signs and symptoms, which may include the following:

  • Frequent episodes of binge eating, or eating more food than normal in a short time period
  • Eating rapidly while bingeing
  • Continuing to eat past the point of fullness
  • Eating in isolation due to feelings of shame or embarrassment
  • Eating to a point of physical discomfort
  • Feeling guilty, disgust, or shameful after binge eating

Eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder, are the result of a multitude of factors, including genetics, environment, and psychological components, and can result in severe consequences.

For a child who may already have certain risk factors for binge eating disorder, such as genetic predisposition or a family history, environmental influences, such as exposure to chronic dieting, can be especially triggering.

This is particularly concerning for children, who are vulnerable and in a critical time of growth and development.

It is also important to reiterate that parents are in no way responsible for the development of an eating disorder, and awareness of eating disorder behaviors can actually empower parents to support early intervention and treatment.

Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits and Body Image

Happy-Young-Woman-Standing-Lakeside__IMG_0942-580x386Encouraging children to have a healthy respect and appreciation of their body empowers them to want to take excellent care of their bodies. Remind children of the awesome systems automatically at work in their bodies that sustain their life.

The magnificence of a strong heart pumping blood throughout, the healthy lungs with which they breathe and their strong legs that carry them out to the playground. These sorts of comments encourage children to perceive their bodies as highly functional and inspire a desire to take good care of themselves.

Pressure to Focus on Weight, not Health

Many parents may be feeling the pressure from outside sources; whether it is the media, health professionals, friends or family, parents may be second-guessing the manner in which they are raising their child, how they are eating, or whether they are at a weight that is healthy for them.

While it may be confusing to know what practices are best to follow for the health of your family, remember to encourage and support your child’s intuitiveness with food and their bodies.

If children are unhindered by outside forces, they can naturally self-regulate their intake and discern how much to eat or what foods to eat in a given day.

As a parent, you can empower your child by:

  • Modeling a healthy relationship with food and your body
  • Sharing family meals
  • Taking the emphasis away from weight and dieting

Watching Out for the Warning Signs

It is also important to understand the early warning signs of eating disorder behaviors. While it will be difficult to acknowledge that your child might be struggling with an eating disorder, awareness can lead to early intervention and treatment measures.

Children who may be struggling with binge eating disorder can benefit from a comprehensive treatment plan that involves the help of a medical doctor, therapist, nutritionist, and psychiatrist.

If you are concerned about your child’s eating habits or weight, be sure to discuss these concerns with a trusted health professional that can support you as you care for your loved one.

A qualified eating disorder professional can evaluate whether or not your child is struggling with the onset of binge eating disorder and if professional measures should be set in place for intervention.  Early identification of the eating disorder can lead to improved prognosis and outcomes.

Even as circumstances feel overwhelming, remember that you are not alone and a multitude of resources exist to help you throughout your parenting journey.


  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Childhood Obesity Facts”,
  2. Field AE, Austin SB, Taylor CB, Malspeis S, Rosner B, Rockett HR, Gillman MW, and Colditz GA. Relation Between Dieting and Weight Change Among Preadolescents and Adolescents. Pediatrics. Oct 2003;112:900-906.
  3. Patton GC, Selzer R, Coffey C, Carlin JB, Wolfe R. Onset of eating disorders: population based cohort over 3 years. BMJ. 1999;318:765 –768.

Jacquelyn EkernAbout the author: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website. In addition, she is a fully licensed therapist with a closed private counseling practice specializing in the treatment of eating disorders.

Jacquelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from The University of Phoenix and a Masters degree in Counseling/Psychology, from Capella University. She has extensive experience in the eating disorder field including advanced education in psychology, participation and contributions to additional eating disorder groups, symposiums, and professional associations. She is a member of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), Academy of Eating Disorders (AED), the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp).

Jacquelyn enjoys art, working out, walking her golden retriever “Cowgirl”, reading, painting and time with family.
Although Eating Disorder Hope was founded by Jacquelyn Ekern, this organization would not be possible without support from our generous sponsors.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published and Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 30, 2017.
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