Food Phobia of Childhood:  a “new” eating disorder

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By Julie K. O’Toole MD, MPH

I have decided occasionally to write about topics that may be of more interest to practicing physicians and other providers confronted with difficult or unusual cases related to disordered eating. This is one of those topics.

Food phobia of childhood, primarily seen in pre- or early pubertal children, was first described as such by Bryan Lask (pediatric psychiatrist) and Rachel Bryant-Waugh (psychologist) in the early 1990’s as a result of their work at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London. To my knowledge, with the exception of one article reporting work with a single young boy, food phobia has not been discussed as an entity in the American pediatric literature except under the general title “dysphagia” where it is likely to come to the attention primarily of pediatric gastroenterologists and otolaryngologists. In the adult literature it is usually referred to as “choking phobia”. More recently Dr. Lask has chosen to refer to it again as “functional dysphagia,” although we at the Kartini Clinic for Disordered Eating prefer the more intuitive “food phobia.” In our experience, pediatricians report they are often at a loss about what to do with these challenging patients. We are grateful to Drs. Lask and Bryant-Waugh for calling attention to this condition. Click here for the full article.