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Team in the eating disorders program
Referrals and admissions to McMaster Children’s Hospital’s eating disorders program have exploded compared to pre-pandemic volumes. The team at MCH wants families to know that help is available.
December 1, 2021

Help is here if your child is struggling with eating

During the COVID-19 pandemic, demand across Hamilton Health Sciences’ McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) child and youth mental health programs has been unprecedented.

Natasha Johnson

Dr. Natasha Johnson

The pediatric eating disorders program is at the top of that list. Referrals and admissions have exploded, up 90 per cent and 50 per cent respectively from pre-pandemic levels.

Dr. Natasha Johnson, pediatrician and medical co-director of MCH’s eating disorders program, shares some helpful tips for parents and caregivers who think their child may be experiencing an eating disorder.

What to look for

  • Changes to a child’s weight. Adolescence is a period of physical growth and children should not be maintaining or losing weight
  • Low blood pressure or low heart rate
  • Mood changes or irritability
  • Over-exercising
  • If the child is a picky eater, is the pickiness changing or becoming more restrictive?
  • A child choosing to eat alone, not with their family
  • Sudden changes to a child’s diet “outside the family context,” for example, becoming vegan with no previous desire or similar influences in the home or family’s circle

What you can do if you’re concerned

  • Book an appointment with your family doctor for an assessment.
  • Limit all physical activity while waiting for the assessment.
  • Monitor, address and/or have a conversation about the activity that is causing the stress or harm, for example, over exercising, dietary changes, etc.
  • Supervise what your child is eating by having mealtime together.
  • Avoid making “good/bad” judgements about food. Practice balance and moderation in meal planning.
  • Seek advice from a registered dietician with experience in pediatric eating disorders.
  • Seek additional resources and support from other parents.

Resources for parents

McMaster Children’s Hospital Eating Disorder Program
National Eating Disorder Information Centre
National Initiative for Eating Disorders
Maudsley Parents