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Helping Your 'Not-Thin' Kids

What parents should (and shouldn't) do

Eating Disorders on the Rise

Anorexia has risen steadily since the 1950s, while the rate of bulimia among 10- to 39-year-olds tripled between 1988 and 1993, according to Diane Mickley, MD, director of the Wilkins Center (which specializes in eating disorders, self-esteem, and weight issues).

What are the ages when children are most vulnerable to developing eating disorders? "For anorexia it's … in the 12- to 13-year ballpark, around physical puberty, and also later, in the 17-year range, around the approach of separation for college," says Mickley. "Bulimia has a peak onset during the college-aged years."

Research shows these illnesses may be hereditary (as much so as schizophrenia). But environment is also important.

"For anorexia, the vulnerable temperament is anxious, harm-avoidant, perfectionistic, disciplined, restrained, responsible, people-pleasing," says Mickley, "while for bulimia, being more impulsive, stimulus-seeking, and [changeable] seems to put people more at risk."

In a vulnerable person, experts say, an intentional -- even appropriate -- weight loss "diet" can generate a series of events that help set an eating disorder in motion.

So what should a concerned parent do when a child is overweight or obese? And -- just as important -- what should parents not do? Here are some tips from the experts:

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