Rise in people with eating disorders denied help because their 'BMI isn’t LOW enough'

PEOPLE with eating disorders are being denied help because their BMI (Body Mass Index) isn't low enough, experts have warned.

During the coronavirus pandemic there has been a fourfold rise in the number of men and women being admitted to hospital with eating disorders.

But one leading psychiatrist has said that some patients have not been able to seek the help they need due their scoring on the BMI scale.

Doctors and health professionals use BMI to calculate where a person falls in a weight range and this can determine whether you are underweight, overweight or obese.

A normal BMI is considered to be between 18.5 and 24.9, anything under 18.5 sets alarm bells ringing when it comes to eating disorders.

BMI uses your height, weight and sex to give you a score.

Dr Agnes Ayton, the chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists eating disorders faculty said that BMI is not an appropriate way to measure whether or not someone has an eating disorder.

Papers seen by The Guardian show there has been a rise in eating disorder admissions in men and in ethnic minorities and that there has been a lack of funding in general to this part of the health service.

Dr Ayton said BMI was "simply a way to monitor the physical symptoms of this mental illness".

She told The Guardian: "Unfortunately, it is not uncommon that patients are excluded from chronically underfunded services based on their BMI.

"This puts desperate patients in a life-threatening position to reduce more weight in order to meet the threshold to gain help."


Mental health campaigner Hope Virgo, along with Dr Ayton, shared a paper with the findings with the Department of Health and Social Care.

Virgo said that many people have been unable to get the help they need because their BMI isn't low enough and added that this adds to the myth that eating disorders are all about weight.

She said that this "fuels eating disorders" and that turning people away because of their BMI is "dangerous and costs lives".

One specialist said many women have had to go private as they are unable to get help through the NHS.

Sports dietitian Renee McGregor said many women who go to her clinic have BMIs in the normal range, but that many have stopped having periods due to overexercising and undereating.

She added: "They have often tried to seek support regarding their lack of period and most are either told that it is normal because they are so active or that the only option is to go on the [contraceptive] pill to help kickstart their reproductive system.”

Many women have irregular periods, and this can be due to a whole range of things from the contraception they are on to lifestyle.

But menstruation can be halted if you don't have enough body fat and if you have a hormonal imbalance.

The NHS said that the health service has treated over 1,700 more children and young people since last year and that funding for mental health services continues to rise.

However, it was recently revealed that there has been a spike in kids suffering from eating disorders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Analysis of NHS figures show that in the period between October and December 2020, 700 under 18s in England started treatment for an urgent eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia.

It's 85 per cent higher than the 377 in the same period in 2019.

For routine cases, it rose 40 per cent from 1,812 to 2,554 in the three-month period.

It follows an upwards trend across the second half of 2020, as Covid restrictions took their toll on Britain.

Rates were relatively the same between January and June, during which time the first lockdown was put in place.

But the figure shot up once Covid restrictions took hold and youngsters had been out of schools for months.

A total of 625 "urgent" children admitted were between July and September compared to an expected 345, based on 2019 figures.

The hikes do not represent the NHS working through a backlog caused by lockdowns, but a genuine increase. 


Just last month the Royal College of Psychiatrists said that people had been "bombarded" with weight loss messages during the pandemic.

Studies have previously shown that overweight Brits are twice as likely to be killed by Covid.

Sir Simon Stevens previously said high levels of obesity may have fuelled Brit fatalities.

More than a quarter of Brits are obese – with a body mass index over 30. It compares to just one in 35 in the 70s.

Sir Simon, chief executive of NHS England warned underlying conditions, such as excess weight, may explain why Britain has fared worse than other nations during the pandemic.


He previously said that we are “all carrying too many pounds as a country”, adding that there is a “strong case” for “getting serious” about issues such as obesity.

Dr Ayton previously explained that the pandemic would have fuelled anxiety among those who have eating disorders.

The psychiatrist said: "People have been buying things that may last longer. Some of these foods – like pasta or biscuits – can be a trigger food for people who are bingeing or who have bulimia."

In response to the papers seen by The Guardian, the Department of Health and Social care said: "People should not be rejected for treatment solely on the grounds of weight or BMI – and we expect commissioners and providers to follow this guidance."

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder then you can contact the Beat helpline on 0808 801 0677.

The charity also runs an online webchat where you can get advice.

If you are in need of urgent help then you should call 999.

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