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Rise in number of children with anorexia

child refusing food on a fork
child refusing food on a fork Image credit:

The number of young children suffering from anorexia has doubled over the past ten years according to a recent study.

Figures released by King’s College London imply 3.20 per 100,000 youngsters between the ages of eight and 12 have symptoms of the eating disorder in 2015 compared to 1.5 to 2.1 per 100,000 in 2006.

Co-author of the study and professor of health economics at the college, Sarah Byford, believes the reasons for the rising statistics are related to being under pressure to excel at school and eat a healthy diet.

Although she added: “This finding might simply be that we are getting better at identifying young people [with anorexia].”

The report was compiled by gathering data from children and psychiatrists in community settings, universities and hospitals based in the UK and Ireland asking them to record the number of anorexia experiences they have seen between February and September 2015.

A total of 305 cases were collected through the study with the majority being connected to girls and people of white ethnicity, although only have of the clinicians which were asked to participate replied.

Results suggested there are 13.7 new cases of anorexia per 100,000 people per year aged between eight and 17. In girls the figure rose to 25.7 per 100,000 with the age of diagnosis at its highest when they are 15 years old.

Byford said: “For the younger children aged eight to 12 we are only talking maybe 250 [new cases a year].”

He added the total is probably much higher, taking into account most young people living with an eating disorder do not seek professional help.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists said less than 25 per of patients request treatment for eating disorders in the UK. 

Tom Quinn from Beat charity urged health services to ensure they are using the available resources which are available to them.

He said: “Since 2016, substantial extra funding has been made available to the NHS in England for investment in specialist eating disorder services for under 18s, but not all commissioners and providers have prioritised these services sufficiently.”

He added: “Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible and the sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full and sustained recovery.”

Chair of the eating disorders faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Agnes Ayton, said: “This study shows what psychiatrists have been seeing every day, which is a worrying rise in the number of young people suffering from the most deadly mental illness. The causes are complex, and much more research needs to be done in order to better support those affected. Anecdotally, reasons could include increasing pressures on children in schools, and advertisements encouraging unrealistic ideas of body image.”

Between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.