Growing numbers of young Queenslanders seeking help for eating disorders

25 March 2019 

More than 400 young Queenslanders have been referred to Children’s Health Queensland’s (CHQ) specialist Eating Disorders Program in the past three years, with the number of referrals increasing annually.

Of the 408 children and young people referred to the service for assessment and treatment between March 2016 and February 2019, the majority (95%) were girls, with anorexia nervosa being the most common diagnosis.

The program’s multidisciplinary team also supports clients with bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorders, avoidant food intake disorder, certain other specified feeding and eating disorders and co-existing secondary diagnoses including anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Eating Disorders Program, delivered through CHQ’s Child and Youth Mental Health Service, is the only specialist stand-alone specialist eating disorder service for children and adolescents in Queensland.

The clinic is based in Greenslopes, Brisbane, but supports children, young people and their families across Queensland through telehealth consultations and video-conferencing to provide treatment close to home whenever possible.

Eating Disorders Program Medical Director Dr Salvatore Catania said eating disorders were a growing concern for children, young people and families in Queensland.

“The National Eating Disorder Collaboration estimates that 1 in 20 Australians are living with an eating disorder, and that rate is continuing to increase,” Dr Catania said.

“Eating disorders typically start in adolescence between 14 and 25 years of age, however the age of onset is decreasing and children as young as five are presenting with eating disorder symptoms nationally.

“In Queensland, the average age of adolescents we see at the clinic is 15, but we have seen children as young as seven.

“Eating disorders are still not well understood in the general population with myths including you must be extremely thin to have an eating disorder, or you are choosing not to eat and can choose to just start eating again. These myths are inaccurate and make it much harder for children and young people to seek help.”

Dr Catania said it was important for families and friends to seek medical help if they think their child or friend may have an eating disorder.

“Eating Disorders are a serious psychiatric illness that can severely affect physical, social and emotional development. Between 5 and 20 per cent of individuals diagnosed with eating disorders die or experience chronic long-term disability from complications of starvation or suicide,” Dr Catania said.

“Early identification and access to evidenced-based treatment have been consistently shown to improve recovery outcomes for children and adolescents.”

Common signs that a child or adolescent may have an eating disorder include avoiding family meal times, changes in eating routines, increasing exercise, isolation from peers and changes in weight and shape.

The Eating Disorders Program specialises in providing family-based treatment for anorexia nervosa because a child or young person’s family plays a critical role in their road to recovery.

“The nature of an eating disorder can make it very difficult for an individual to seek or initially engage in treatment without family support. Families also play an important role in identifying a problem in the first place,” Dr Catania said.

Children’s Health Queensland works closely with community mental health teams, hospital services, primary care providers and Education Queensland to increase awareness of eating disorders, improve early identification and facilitate access to treatment as soon as possible.

For more information about the Eating Disorders program, call 07 3397 9077 or email


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