Picky Eater Boy - © buenasalud.net

A New Eating Disorder For Parents To Worry About

Just when we’re getting to the bottom of some older, well-known childhood eating disorders, a new one has come to my attention. Once associated with regular old picky eating, ARFID is now classed as its own disease, and a serious one, at that…

Picky Eater Girl - © twinversity.comIt may not just be ‘picking eating’, but ARFID – a new disorder
that can persist into the teens and later life…

What does ARFID stand for?

It’s a rather clumsy acronym, which some may mistake for another that looks and sounds very similar.

RFID (pronounced the same) stands for Radio Frequency ID tracking. You see it all the time in every-day life in anti-shoplifting systems and product ID systems. It’s a flat-form system that uses small copper coil antennae to trigger scanners installed at store checkouts. Once a purchase is completed, the tag is either removed or disabled.

ARFID stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. ARFID is not closely related to other eating disorders, as you might expect. Nor is it mainly found in children. Folks of all ages can have it.

The latest edition of the DSM-5 catalogue of psychiatric and psychological disorders defines ARFID as, “a new diagnosis , […] and was previously referred to as ‘Selective Eating Disorder’. ARFID is similar to anorexia in that both disorders involve limitations in the amount and/or types of food consumed, but unlike anorexia, ARFID does not involve any distress about body shape or size, or fears of fatness.”

“Although many children go through phases of picky or selective eating, a person with ARFID does not consume enough calories to grow and develop properly and, in adults, to maintain basic body function.”

Persistent or undiagnosed ARFID can contribute to the development of other diseases and conditions, some extremely dangerous and even life-threatening.

Other characteristics

Along with not being ‘just another childhood phase’, ARFID often persists into young adulthood and older age, and can have extremely serious long-term consequences.

“Unlike anorexia nervosa, ARFID is not about the patient’s experience of their own body and fear of gaining weight,” the abstract of a new study reports “Instead, the disease is characterised by the avoidance of certain types of food due to a sensory discomfort because of the characteristics or appearance of food, or for example, the fear of choking, a food poisoning phobia, or lack of appetite.”

New study specifically identifies genetic link

The new study – by a team from Karolinska Institutet of Sweden – has discovered that ARFID is far more common in twin pairs than in non-twins. Identical twins, in particular, share up to a 76 percent risk of developing ARFID. Researchers that’s a remarkable linkage. and an almost-sure fire indication that ARFID is genetically associated.

For families, it means that children from twin pairs who seem to be suffering from anorexia may, in fact, have ARFID and should be examined with an eye to such a diagnosis.

It also means that, since ARFID is not just a psychological disorder (like anorexia or bulima), different or additional treatments may be required to rid sufferers of the condition.

My take

Researchers estimate that between one [and] five percent of the population is affected by ARFID. That may not sound like much, but it gets into the tens or hundreds of thousands in countries with populations in the millions. That’s got to add up to huge health care costs especially since ARFID can last a lifetime if not treated. Not just because of ARFID, itself, but because of the other serious diseases and conditions it can contribute to.

Me? I’m also concerned that kids (and adults) suffering from ARFID ae missing out on great dining and sensory experiences because of a condition that can usually be successfully be treated. You know what they say: that some people simply eat to live, while others live to eat!

And, yes, we must not forget about the childhood socialization challenges ARFID could lead to, as well as lingering issues that could lead to isolation and associated problems in later life. It’s odd to think, in this connection, that not eating enough in early life could lead to eating recklessly, and drinking too much, later on. Not to mention abuse of supplements, mood control substances and stronger drugs to try to control ARFID symptoms in the long term…

~ Maggie J.