Almost 100 children aged between five and seven have had hospital treatment over the past three years for anorexia, bulimia or similar problems, shocking figures show.
Commentators responding to the figures said society’s obsession with being thin was partly to blame.
The information comes from 35 NHS hospitals – but others did not give any information so the figures may actually be much higher.
A total of 98 young children aged between five and seven have had hospital treatment during the last three years because of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
A further 99 aged eight and nine had treatment over the same period.
And almost 400 children aged between ten and twelve and 1,500 between 13 and 15 had treatment for the same reasons.
The figures caused Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the eating disorders charity Beat, to warn: “The ideal figure promoted for women these days is that of a girl, not an adult woman.
“Girls see the pictures in magazines of extremely thin women and think that is how they should be.
“That can leave them fearful of puberty, and almost trying to stave it off.
“A number of factors combine to trigger eating disorders; biology and genetics play a large part in their development, but so do cultural pressures, and body image seems to be influencing younger children much more over the past decade.”
Author Tanith Carey also hit out at the figures, saying: “In today’s looks-obsessed society, even the tiniest girls are internalising media images which tell them, simply and unequivocally, that thin equals perfect.
“If it’s not the girl pop stars they sing along to, it’s the talent show performers they admire and the models they want to look like. Even their dolls come in size zero.”
Last year a Girlguiding survey revealed that girls think the pressure to look attractive is one of the worst aspects of being female.