Anorexia nervosa is a life-threatening eating disorder and a mental illness that causes people who live with the illness to stop eating regularly or persistently and leads to them being underweight.

Recently, new figures in NSW have revealed children as young as seven are being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. This has also caused intensive day programs to expand to meet the amount of children being diagnosed.

As a result of these shocking new figures, doctors will now be specifically trained to detect the life-threatening eating disorder, particularly in children.

The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network Eating Disorders Unit co-director Dr Sloane Madden says hundreds of doctors and youth mental health workers across every local health district in NSW will receive training over the next two years to detect and treat eating disorders in children before it gets to the point of hospitalisation.

“If we want the best outcome, we need people to be picked up earlier, treated earlier and treated close to home,” said Dr Madden.

This year alone, about 100 children have been treated at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and out of that, 10 per cent of these children are under 12, and a fifth are from regional or rural areas. Although the eating disorder is predominately a female illness, young boys are increasingly needing help.
“9 and 10-year old boys want to be fitter and more muscular, so they really cut back on their food and they exercise in a very compulsive way,” Dr Madden said.

The issue being faced today is children are only being diagnosed once they have been rushed to hospital due to starvation and obsessive exercise.

“There are greater numbers presenting earlier on – part of that is exposure to messages about health, fitness and dieting are happening at an earlier age and people are much more aware of eating disorders than they were before,” said Dr Madden.

According to Pru Goward, Minister for Mental Health, there will be a new Crows Nest, Sydney, location for the day program to help patients seek help closer to home.

“It will go a long way towards assisting adolescents and their families in overcoming eating disorders,” Pru Goward said.

Among those who survive anorexia nervosa, about 25 per cent will make a full recovery; around 50 per cent will experience remission with some lingering symptoms; and 25 per cent will develop a chronic, unremitting course of illness.

Treatment for anorexia nervosa aims to restore a healthy weight, reverse malnutrition, ensure physical safety and health, and restore and maintain mental health.

For those currently living with anorexia nervosa, The Butterfly Foundation’s ED HOPE service offers support via phone (1800 334 673), email ( or live chat (

Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI) scientists from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute are
working rigorously to identify the genes that play a role in causing the serious and potentially life-threatening illness, afflicting an estimated 53,000 Australians (17,000 from New South Wales). Please click the link above for more information on ANGI and how you can help.