Parents may regard kids who regularly reject food simply as “picky eaters.” But new research suggests that young children who intentionally restrict their eating may actually have eating disorders that can cause serious health consequences.

Research published in the October Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine collected information from 2,453 Canadian pediatricians about children ages 5 to 12 who were in their care. They found the incidence of restrictive eating disorders -- defined in the study as “intentional limitation or avoidance of nutrition” -- to be 2.6 per 100,000. That’s twice the incidence of type 2 diabetes among Canadian children, according to the study.

Of 161 children identified as having restrictive eating disorders, girls outnumbered boys six to one, the study found. The physicians reported observing delayed growth in 47 percent of the eating-disordered girls and nearly 55 percent of the eating-disordered boys; 46 percent of the eating disordered children had BMIs below the 10th percentile.

Worse yet, more than a third had unstable vital signs such as blood pressure and heart rate -- and nearly half needed hospitalization. The study found that about 62 percent of the children with restricted eating disorders met the criteria for anorexia nervosa, which was defined as having “lost weight or failed to make expected weight gains, with restriction described as determined food avoidance, fear of getting fat or gaining weight, and misperception of body size or denial of symptom severity.”

The authors report that theirs is the first country-wide study in North America to examine the incidence of restrictive eating disorders among children.