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It’s time to treat the rise in eating disorders as a public health crisis

It’s time to treat the rise in eating disorders as a public health crisis
Hope Virgo

Hope Virgo

4 min read

We must transform the face of eating disorders research, treatment and understanding, so that all types of eating disorders are visible.

A simple google search of “eating disorders” will give you all the facts you need to know, but despite the increased awareness around eating disorders, there still remains a disparity in how urgently they are being treated.

We know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any psychiatric illness, and now effect 16% of our population. What these statistics miss is the number of people functioning at a “high” level with an eating disorder. Those who will never be able to access early intervention, those who get up each day obsessively calorie counting, exercising, binging, allowing food to be their coping mechanism to life.

Is it surprising that only 10% of people with eating disorders are actually known to services?

As we all know, eating disorders are a growing problem.

Dr Agnes Ayton, Chair of the Faculty of Eating Disorders Psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "Eating disorders services are facing an unprecedented challenge. Referrals have sky-rocketed. The impact of the pandemic comes on top of years of underfunding and workforce shortages. We know that delays to care and treatment can cost lives so we must identify and treat eating disorders as early as possible."

Eating disorder treatment services were woefully underfunded and a postcode lottery pre-Covid-19. This last year has brought the system to its knees

There is a vicious cycle between the lack of awareness, lack of training, lack of funding, and lack of research.

Eating disorders are a coping mechanism. Renee McGregor; Leading Sports Dietitian, specialising in Eating Disorders; explains it like this: “Eating disorders are mental illnesses with physical consequences. Present treatment in the UK focuses too much on individuals hitting physical criteria and being able to be classified when in reality a more holistic approach is required. This should include a full blood panel including hormones to assess someone’s physical status as well as assessing their cognition, which then helps to inform of what is the best therapeutic practice for that individual. There is not a one size fits all approach. Most individuals will require a flexible psychological process if we are to affect change.”

I am the founder of the Hearts Minds and Genes Coalition for Eating Disorders and together with the group we have decided that enough is enough. That’s why the coalition will be hosting a closed government roundtable where we will be looking at the solutions to an ever-growing problem.   

The coalition’s mission is to transform the face of eating disorders research, treatment and understanding, so that all types of eating disorders are visible.

Dr Gerome Breen; psychiatric geneticist says; "Eating disorders affect more than 5% of the population globally. We need a step change in clinical and research funding. Research has the potential to enable the development of new and better therapies for these incredibly damaging disorders." 

Suzanne Baker and Helen Missen FEAST Representative UK explained; “Eating disorder treatment services in the UK were woefully underfunded and a postcode lottery pre-Covid-19. This last year has brought the system to its knees and the situation is now a public health crisis. We believe that eating disorders are treatable with a combination of nutritional, medical and therapeutic supports and that recovery is possible at any age and at any stage - the fact that people are still dying from these illnesses is a national disgrace."

We must not lose sight that behind all the statistics that are thrown around in parliament are stories, lives, individuals.

We have a responsibility to start seeing the faces behind these statistics, to start focusing on what we can do to ensure that people affected by eating disorders have the best chance at life, and the best chance of recovering!

We must treat the rise in eating disorders as the public health crisis it is, and invest time, money, and research into getting this right. To properly allocate health care resources for the optimum outcome, before we lose generation after generation to this deadly but avoidable illness.  

John McDonnell MP says; “Thanks to the dedicated campaigning that has taken pace, there is a growing recognition of the impact of the pandemic on those effected by eating disorders but now we need an urgent and coordinated programme of action driven through by the Secretary of State for Health.”

 

Hope Virgo is a mental health campaigner and author and Founder of #DumpTheScales.

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