Background: The incidence of anorexia nervosa (AN) in adolescents has increased significantly in recent years. In several studies and in the media it has been suggested that AN has recently become more prevalent in the pre-adolescence. In view of the impact that an eating disorder can have on a child, it is important to diagnose and start treating the illness as early as possible.
Aim: To review the literature on the characteristics and susceptibilities of patients with eating disorders because this information can be important for early diagnosis, prevention and identification of susceptibilities to early-onset eating disorders.
Method: We searched the literature for articles relating to early-onset eating disorders. We based our search on PubMed and on related relevant articles listed in the references. We selected 34 relevant articles published between 1987 and 2014.
Results: The literature lists characteristics and susceptibilities at various levels. Many types of factors are involved; examples of 'biological' factors are prior streptococcal infection, previous consultations with GP and a patients medical history; psychological factors include comorbidity, temperament, a particular personality profile, maturation-anxiety; environmental factors such as family history, family functioning and/or stressful events can play a role in the development of eating disorders. CONCLUSION The literature indicates that the early development of AN in children is related to a complex combination of etiological factors. However, there is a need for more research into this group of patients.