Some NHS hospitals treating such patients refused to provide any data while others would only release figures for children admitted after becoming dangerously thin, excluding those undergoing psychiatric therapy as outpatients.
The findings come after experts called earlier this year for urgent action to improve the detection of eating disorders in children.
‘More should be done’
Charity Beat provides support for adults and young people with eating disorders.
Head of services Francis Burrows told Channel 4 News he would be “very surprised” if children aged five were suffering from such a “serious mental illness” as anorexia.
Anorexia is a severe mental illness and bullying is often cited as a cause.Francis Burrows, Beat
He pointed out that the figures included all children being treated in a hospital setting for various problems with eating. But Mr Burrows said more could be done to support young people who had concerns about their body image.
“Parents need to think if they’re constantly dieting what kind of role model that is setting for their children.
“But it isn’t just about food and eating. Anorexia is a severe mental illness and bullying is often cited as a cause so it’s important to create a loving and supportive environment and check children are doing well at school,” he said.
He said there was evidence to show that the sooner eating disorders were treated the more likely the individual was to recover and urged anyone worried about a loved one to seek help.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We are committed to improving mental health among the whole population.
“That is why we are providing around £400m over the next four years to expand psychological therapies, including a specific programme for children and young people. Early intervention is essential for those with eating disorders.”