Difficult eaters could have underlying psychological issues, the research warned.

"For some children, bullying can initiate or reinforce boy image preoccupations and possibly lead to a change in eating behaviour," said lead researcher Dominique Meilleur, a professor at the University of Montreal in Canada.

The researchers studied the psychological, socio-demographic and physiological characteristics of 215 eight to twelve year olds with eating problems.

Kids with physical issues that could cause eating problems, such as diabetes or cystic fibrosis, were excluded from the study.

The researchers found that the children often suffered from other problems as well in particular, anxiety, mood disorders and attention deficiency.

"Many factors are associated with the development and persistence of eating disorders," Meilleur explained.

The results of this study indicate that 22.7 percent of the children identify having been mocked or insulted for his or her appearance as a trigger event to the modification of their behaviour.Indeed, 95 percent of the children in the study had restrictive eating behaviour, 69.4 percent were afraid of putting on weight, and 46.6 percent described themselves as fat.

"These behaviours support findings that body image is a preoccupation for some children as early as elementary school," Meilleur pointed out.

The study found that eating disorders are not a 'girl problem' as boys in the same age group were found to be similar to girls in most cases.

The findings were presented Monday at the Eating Disorders Association of Canada conference in Vancouver.

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