ANOREXIA: Warning to parents, my pre-adolescent daughter developed anorexia after seeing it on a television program.
Site hosted by Build your free website today!

ANOREXIA: Warning to parents, my pre-adolescent daughter developed anorexia after seeing it on a television program.

My name is Mike. My daughter developed anorexia at 9 1/2 years old after seeing a program on NICKELODEON produced, written and hosted by Linda Ellerbee called "The Body Trap". This program first aired on May 29, 1996 at 8:00p.m.. My little girl had the grave misfortune of witnessing it on June 2, 1996 at 8:00p.m. It came on without warning following the cartoon my three little ones were watching. My wife and I were only a few feet away cleaning up after dinner. Our 9 1/2 year old called out to my wife to come look at the T.V., and tell her what was wrong with the girl that looked like a skeleton. My wife rushed in and questioned what the kids were watching. They told her it was just NICKELODEON. The program ended, and little did we know but normal life as we had known it ended also. Confused and irritated at why a program of this nature should be indiscriminately shotgun blasted at whatever age children happen to be watching NICKELODEON (a children's network), my wife did her best to try to explain to our 9 1/2 year old, our 7 1/2 year old and our 5 year old, that the girl on the program was suffering from a disorder known as anorexia.

Within a few days our daughter would come up to us after dinner, pull her shirt up, and ask "Am I fat?". We would tell her of course she is not, she is thin and has always been thin. After a number of nights of questions, I asked her when you look in the mirror do you see a fat girl or a thin girl? She laughed and said thin of course! We asked then why do you keep asking if you are fat? She said that after dinner her tummy felt full. Hearing this I was relieved. I explained that feeling full is a good thing, it is the way your body tells you when you have had enough to eat. I went on to explain that the body tells us when we are hungry and when we are full, and it is this very gauge that helps us not to get fat. I told her that it is like the gas gauge in our car, when the gauge reads empty, there is no fuel and the car will not run. When the gauge reads full, the car is filled with fuel and does not need any more, in fact it won't do any good to keep filling the car, the fuel will just be wasted. So we pay attention to these guages. This seemed to settle the questions for her, and for a time she didn't bring up the issue again.

She then very gradually over a period of months started restricting certain foods. It started with potato chips, then sweets, then hot dogs, then pizza, and then anything a 9 1/2 year old considered junk food. My wife was constantly asking her why she was doing this. Her reply was, "I just want to eat healthy". It was pretty difficult to argue with this, as she was eating healthy, and still eating lots of what she considered healthy foods. This went on for sometime with no weightloss. However, we were concerned at how rigid she was on this self imposed diet. She simply said goodbye to a food, and never looked back.

Our pediatrician thought it was probably a "phase", kids this age like to take a little more control of their lives. He advised us to monitor her weight and keep an eye on it. We brought up the possibility of anorexia to a psychiatrist friend who knew our daughter well. The psychiatrist friend said no, your daughter is so popular and happy, she has always been a leader. Your family life is stable and loving. At that point the medical professionals we knew simply could not believe it possible.

By November she was starting to lose weight and we began to notice behavior changes. She was diagnosed with anorexia on December 4th. February 18th our little girl was put into the hospital for almost 3 weeks. We are living in the darkness this disorder brings to a family. We live from meal to meal. We do have a great team of professionals, headed by a psychologist who has specialized in eating disorders for the past 20 years. He has had excellent results with children. Our hope is that because she is a pre-adolescent, and we were able to identify the problem and get help quickly, she will be able to work through this and return to her happy, loving self. In the meantime we are living in this hell, called anorexia.

Our daughter's psychologist told us that he has been cautioning media for years to be very careful how they handle a subject such as anorexia. Especially when it is presented to children. He states that children at this age often see, but they do not hear.

Age appropriateness is fundamental when dealing with a disorder of unknown etiolgy. For a children's network to broadcast a show dealing with a psychological disorder that even the experts cannot agree on, is remiss (no matter what their intention). A little research and Linda Ellerbee would have found that nobody knows what triggers anorexia, experts are confounded by the disorder, theories abound, the only aspect on which there is universal agreement is that therapy is vital.(SEE:Research bottom of this page)

Images are much more powerful than words, T.V. has known this for years. The cardinal rule in T.V. is to hook the audience within the first few minutes of any program. Time and again T.V. uses visual explotation and/or shock as the hook. Succeed and they have an audience, fail and the remote control comes out. Within the first three minutes of "The Body Trap", Linda Ellerbee visually shocked her young audience with a video of a 14 year old anorexic weighing 60 pounds. She was shown clad in only a hospital gown, narrating how she hated herself. As if seeing this sad little person, walking and talking was not shocking enough, Linda Ellerbee chose to inner cut still photos of her emaciated body with the gown pulled up. To use adult journalistic shock tactics on our children is unconscionable.

I currently know the background on 8 anorexic girls, 50% of them state that they developed anorexia after seeing it on television. One developed anorexia after seeing a 20/20 program, dealing with the prejudices that overwieght people deal with in society. Two developed anorexia after seeing a "movie of the week", where the main character was anorectic. And my daughter after seeing "The Body Trap". These findings seem to exemplify a long standing debate: do educational programs prevent eating disorders or contribute to them? This of course is not a scientific study, just a dad with some very disturbing news: Television programs dealing with anorexia and/or eating disorders are triggering anorexia in some of our children. These children may have had a predisposition and seeing the program set it off. The question is, had they not seen the program at a young age (when they did not possess the cognitive skills to deal properly with the program content) could this disorder have been avoided? With eating disorders on the rise, these issues better be faced.

For people who doubt the power television has over it's audience, simply review the rules governing the tobacco industry. TV cigarette adds were abolished. Why? Because it is believed that seeing it on TV may cause people to do something they know will kill them - smoke.

I want to reach any parents who have noticed a severe change in their child's eating habits since June of 1996. This program is still being broadcast on NICKELODEON. It has damaged my daughter severely and will no doubt damage many other young children who do not have the ability to digest the content.

As my half starved daughter lay in a hospital bed, hooked up to a heart monitor, she told me that she had never wanted to become an anorexic. I asked her, "Then why did you become one?". She explained in a child's simple logic: "After I saw that program, I started watching what I ate so that I would never become fat. Because if I never became fat, I would never have to lose weight, so I would never, ever have to become the skeleton I saw on NICKELODEON.".

Edited 6/23/97 Copyright 1997

*Poem By My Daughter On Anorexia
*Good Parents Searching For Answers Why
*Return to Anorexia Home Page
*Cheryl Wildes has created an excellent site on anorexia, containing a wealth of information including links to newsletters, chat groups and organizations. Thank you Cheryl!
*Research: Anorexia Nervosa