Eating disorder cases rise in young people, according to latest NHS figures
By Nick Watts
Today, the NHS has released figures showing a worrying trend in the number of young people receiving treatment from the NHS for eating disorders.
The figures indicate that in the last three years 98 children between the ages of five and seven were admitted to hospitals due to disordered eating, alongside 99 aged eight and nine and almost 400 between ten and twelve.
Also around 1,500 teenagers between thirteen and fifteen have been hospitalised for severe disordered eating in the same period.
Why is this?
While impossible to say what has caused this, it would be too easy to place blame on any one factor in the development of an eating disorder, most of the media have today blamed the “super-skinny celebrities” for the rise in severe disordered eating.
It is true that today’s society is more fixed on appearance and attaining unrealistic ideals than ever before, but it would be irresponsible to solely attribute every case of an eating disorder in young people to the exposure they face to over-sexualised and the so called “perfect” images.
Another reason being frequently quoted is the way children pick up negative body image perception for their parents, so called “fat talk”.
There is no doubt that body dissatisfaction can be a factor in an eating disorder from my experience this is yet another symptom of an eating disorder, or part of a complicated array of feelings which leads to one. Bullying, difficult circumstances and childhood trauma all come high on the list of factors which contribute to the onset of eating disorders.
Ollie Roche(pictured with his Mum), who is now 18, is currently recovering from Anorexia which he feels developed in his early teenage years. He did not receive any form of treatment until he was 15, at which point he received counselling and input by his GP, yet wasn’t properly diagnosed as suffering from an eating disorder until the age of 16.
Ollie speaks very openly and passionately about his eating disorder to raise awareness to help others and at no point has Ollie ever blamed body image pressures for the onset of his eating disorder, in fact, on many occasions Ollie has protested the fact that eating disorders are cause by negative body pressures.
He attributes his eating disorder to a bad experience he had at school, which wasn’t made any easier by other difficult things going on in his life at the time. He also mentioned how GP’s and schools are not quick to pick these issues up and raised the point that schools and Doctors should be better educated to handle cases of eating disorders in young people.
Eating disorders in children
The mishandling of eating disorder cases is commonly talked about among sufferers. I spoke with Hannah Ramshaw, who much like Ollie feels GP’s are inadequate in their approach to disordered eating.
Hannah’s experience with disordered eating started young and by age 5 she was receiving specialist treatment, her story, a combination of her parents and her own experiences started with problems socialising at nursery and when Hannah, at 4 years old, started refusing food.
Her GP took the attitude that she was in fact “being fussy” and it took a long time for her parents to persuade doctors that she needed specialist treatment. As she grew older she explained how she felt that abstaining from food gave her something to “control”. While she admits that body image had a part to play in her eating disorder she believes it was her difficulty to socialise and other emotional factors that triggered and maintained her disordered eating.
Hannah, like many others who have suffered, feels the media placing all the blame on body image is unhelpful and that more information for younger children suffering from eating disorders should be made available.
Are we turning the corner?
With eating disorders seeing more publicity and more cases being diagnosed are doctors and schools becoming more aware of the signs and feeling more able to treat and refer cases?
Work is being done to make children and young people more aware of these issues with Body Gossip, the UK’s leading body image campaign launching “Gossip School”, to educate children of school age on issues such as mental health, eating disorders, self confidence and indeed the role body image has to play in all of the above. They have showcased this in many schools across the country and have big plans to make this available to all children of school age.
Training is being made more available to professionals, with the charity I work for MGEDT regularly holding sessions to educate professionals on eating disorders in Men and other organisations providing training on young people.
With many organisations out there providing support, advice, information and treatment the statistics could almost been seen in a positive light, because these cases most likely already existed in young people, but at least now specialist treatment is being made available to the younger sufferers.