A girl of eight has been given specialist treatment for an eating disorder.

The youngster is one of a growing number of children and teenagers across Sussex who are developing serious problems such as anorexia or bulimia.

Skinny celebrity role models, the use of air-brushed images and peer-pressure are among the reasons experts have blamed for the rise.

Other factors include a growing awareness among families, schools and GPs about the signs and symptoms of a disorder.

Figures obtained by The Argus reveal Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust treated 162 under 18s between April 2013 and the end of March.

This includes the eight-year-old girl, another child of ten, and 40 children aged between 11 and 14.

The number is higher than the previous year, when 136 patients were treated, but the actual number could be higher as they only focus on those ill enough to specialist medical care and support provided by the trust.

Thirty of the patients were so seriously unwell, they needed to be admitted to hospital for treatment.

The trust runs inpatient services as well as help and support in the community and in people's homes.

A trust spokeswoman said: “We know that young children may not be identified as having an eating disorder early on in their condition as a physical cause for weight loss may be considered first.

“This means that by the time an eating disorder is identified and the child is referred to us they are much more ill and need more specialist help.

“Given the complexity of diagnosing severe eating disorders we cannot pinpoint one reason for the increase of referrals for younger children but it may be there is increased in awareness of eating disorders in the very young amongst GPs and other health professionals.”

A spokesman for the national eating disorders charity Beat said: “It's vitally important these young people receive the help they need at the earliest possible opportunity.

“Research shows how eating disorders can develop when children find it difficult to talk about or express their emotions in any other way.

“Negative life experiences can trigger eating disorders including bullying, bereavement, family issues such as divorce and separation.”

The spokesman added: “The pattern of eating together as a family is sadly not something that every family follows nowadays.

“Eating together helps develop healthy attitudes towards food for the whole family and should provide a diet that incorporates the daily nutrients that young people need to grow and develop that is accepted as a matter of course.”

Anyone worried about an eating disorder should contact their GP.

More details can be found at www.b-eat.co.uk.