Many studies document the high prevalence of dieting and abnormal eating behaviors in adolescents and young adults. The age of onset of eating disorders remains unclear because there are no published surveys of voluntary dieting and eating attitudes in young children. A total of 318 girls and boys were surveyed from two randomly chosen schools in middle-income neighborhoods. The children were equally distributed among grades 3 through 6. The survey included a children's version of the Eating Attitudes Test and a demographic and dieting questionnaire. Results showed that 45% of the children wanted to be thinner, 37% had already tried to lose weight, and 6.9% scored in the anorexia nervosa range, closely matching the published results concerning teenagers and young adult women. Several questions were isolated by univariate and multiple regression analyses that accurately (P < .05) predicted children's Eating Attitude Test scores. The fact that young children admit having diet preoccupation and atypical eating attitudes is shown in this study. It may be possible to improve early case identification of children at risk for anorexia nervosa and perhaps improve intervention strategies by focusing on the early development of dieting behavior in young children.

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