CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Five-year-olds concerned about being fat; teenagers helping each other to be anorexic.
12 News explores what's called the pro-ana movement and has tips for parents on keeping your kids safe.
Anorexia is the most deadly mental illness because of the long term effects, and now social media is making this disturbing movement a growing movement.
It sounds shocking. It’s called the pro-ana movement.
“It’s really rooted in dysfunction, it’s a way to glorify anorexia as a lifestyle choice,” says Juliet Kuehnle, a local therapist.
Website offer so-called tips on being anorexic.
“Provides inaccurate information about health and weight loss and to promote ways of disordered eating,” Kuehnle said.
Instagram, Twitter, YouTube all flooded with young girls desperate to be thin. There’s even a documentary about the pro-ana movement.
“It provides this connection, validation, support in relationships with each other for all the wrong reasons.”
Kuehnle is a counselor at Southeast Psych where she works with patients who have eating disorders.
“It’s typically not about the food. It’s a way to cope with emotional turmoil; it’s a way to control your surroundings. It's typically not about the food, it’s a way to manage external circumstances.”
She says social media is only feeding the frenzy by making it easier for troubled anorexics to connect.
“Absolutely, now it's not just certain websites, [it's] hashtags, blogging. It is pretty pervasive.”
Perhaps even more frightening, the illness is affecting kids.
“We’re seeing much younger and younger-- there’s a high percentage of 10-year-olds [that] have a fear of being fat. We see a hyper-awareness of kids as young as 5.”
So what can parents do?
“It’s really important to have very direct conversations with your kids.”
She says you also need to be aware of their social media presence.
Instagram has banned certain hashtags associated with pro-ana, but teens have figured out a way around.
“Yes, they have Instagram, but also have finsta-- a fake insta-- so, being able to look deeper and find these buried things. These sites are rooted in ways to hide it from others.”
She also says look for any changes in your kid's behavior such as eating patterns, exercise habits, even pay attention to their attitude towards social media. Are they obsessed with getting likes and shares on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?
"There is this idea that you can tell if someone has an eating disorder-- such a myth, you can’t tell just by looking at somebody.”
There’s some great advice on the national eating disorder website. Click here to learn more.