Children, particularly girls, aged under ten are being admitted to hospital with eating disorders including anorexia, according to alarming new figures.
Some critics blame a culture which encourages girls to look to stick thin models for a desired body image.
The new figures, from the NHS Information Centre, show one in three hospital admissions for eating disorders involves a child.
In the past year almost 900 under-18s, out of a total of 2,579 eating disorder patients, have needed hospital treatment for anorexia, bulimia and other eating problems.
Of these, 31 were for children aged under ten, including eleven boys, and 367 were for ten to 14-year-olds.
A spokeswoman for an eating disorder charity, Beat, said sufferers need help from community GPs before they become so ill they need to go to hospital.
Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said the report confirmed that time spent in hospital due to eating disorders “affect mainly young women and they are mostly treated for anorexia”.
“A large number of hospital stays are among 14 to 16-year-olds, but children who are even younger are also affected”, he added.
A recent survey shed light on the pressure girls face to conform to society’s view of attractiveness.
Responding to a question about disadvantages to being a girl/woman in a poll for Girlguiding UK, 47 per cent named the “pressure to look attractive”.
A spokeswomen for Girlguiding UK said that girls are living in an “extremely stressful” world which can lead to “a range of unhealthy behaviours and outcomes”.
Cathy Fraser added: “It is vital that we support girls and young women to develop their self-esteem and resilience so they can cope with it.”
In August Girlguiding UK called on the Prime Minister to act against computer-enhanced pictures in adverts and magazines which present a false impression of women and lead to distorted ideas about beauty.
The guides called on David Cameron to introduce compulsory labelling to help people distinguish between ‘airbrushed’ and natural images.
Airbrushing includes slimming images down on a computer or retouching them to accentuate certain features of the model and make her skin look flawless.
A Girlguiding member said it was “really important to highlight how serious this issue has become and demand action to protect all girls and young women from these damaging and unrealistic pressures”.
In September a columnist at The Times warned that society needs to stop pressurising young girls to be sexually available in an increasingly “pornified culture”.
Janice Turner said: “It is clear now that several generations of teenagers have grown up absorbing the script of pornography” and: “It is time to offer an alternative”.