ARFID: A Growing Threat to Young People

Throughout the United States, those in the medical and behavioral health fields are very familiar with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Due to extensive media coverage in the past several years, the public at large is also fairly knowledgeable about these food-related disorders.

Recently, an eating disorder getting more attention is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). ARFID is characterized by a persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs. Unlike the more common eating disorders, it is not related to negative body image or how the individual feels about their weight or shape. It is in no way connected to food availability and enjoys widespread acceptability in the American culture.

Because of the weight loss component of ARFID, it can be confused with anorexia; yet a key difference between the two is that the former is not concerned with being skinny. Due to the mystifying and misunderstood nature of this condition, to say nothing of the difficulty of diagnosis, actual numbers of those living with ARFID is unknown. However, what is known is that it affects both genders, and though it can manifest later in life, is more common in younger people:  children and adolescents. Importantly, those with ARFID are more likely to have a psychiatric co-morbidity, especially anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Symptoms of ARFID include one or more of the following:

-Significant nutritional deficiency

-Weight loss or failure to achieve expected weight gain in childhood or adolescence

-Impaired or delayed psychosocial functioning

-Reliance on oral nutritional supplements or other artificial methods of delivering protein, carbohydrate, fat, water, minerals and vitamins into the body

Because a growing body must have adequate nutrition, the health risks and developmental consequences for young people with ARFID can be serious and possibly permanent; therefore, if ARFID is suspected, immediate medical intervention should be sought.