Girls as young as nine are being admitted to hospital with anorexia and bulimia, alarming figures show.
They are developing severe eating disorders before even reaching puberty, and some are so ill they have to be fed by tube.
Figures show that the number of girls aged nine and under needing hospital treatment for conditions such as anorexia and bulimia has doubled in the past year, although they still remain fairly low.
The biggest rise for those admitted to hospital for eating disorders was among teenagers aged 15 to 19, which went up by almost 15 percent from 609 to 698.
Experts say GPs are not spotting the condition early enough so young girls are left to become dangerously thin before they receive any help.
More than 2,579 people were admitted to hospital with eating disorders last year, a rise of 12 percent compared to the previous year, according to NHS figures.
Worryingly, a handful of those patients are just nine years old or younger, and the numbers are increasing
A total of 20 girls under the age of nine needed hospital treatment, compared to just 12 the previous year.
In the past few years doctors have seen increasing numbers of patients suffering from anorexia, some only six years old.
Many experts blame the ‘size-zero’ culture with girls looking up to stick-thin actresses and models as role models.
They become obsessed with their own bodies and often go on unnecessary diets believing they are fat.
At any one time, up to 90,000 Britons are being treated for eating disorders and those between 14 and 25 are believed to be at greatest risk.
But the condition is often not spotted in the early stages as sufferers become good at hiding the problem.
They will often lie to parents and friends, saying they have already eaten to avoid meals or wearing baggy clothes to disguise their figure.
Campaigners say GPs need to learn how to spot the problem during routine appointments. A spokesman for Beat, the eating disorder charity, said: ‘People who are hospitalised are very ill indeed.
‘Community care plays a vital role in ensuring that the number of hospital stays are kept to the minimum.
‘This is demonstrated in areas where treatment concentrates on helping those affected before they reach a critical stage where they have to be admitted.
‘A stay in hospital at an early age can be a major upheaval both for the child and their family.
‘The age range and gender mix remain fairly constant, however these figures represent a small number of the 1.6million people across the UK who are affected by these illnesses.’
Doctors warn that increasing numbers of young women are putting their health at risk by shunning protein and dairy products to try to stay thin.
Figures show that up to 46 percent of teenage girls consume too little iron, making them more likely to develop anaemia, where they have too few red blood cells and feel lethargic.
An official report also found that their diets are also low in magnesium and selenium, a lack of which can lead to insomnia, severe headaches and mood swings.