Under-19s hospital admissions for eating disorders double in a decade

Shock surge in child anorexia: Experts blame social media and celebrity diet culture as hospital admissions for under-19s suffering eating disorders DOUBLE in a decade

  • Admissions for people admitted to hospital with eating disorders has doubled
  • The number of children under 13 has tripled since 2010, rising from 24 to 229
  • This is more than three times more than the 74 recorded in 2010-11
  • But almost one in six consultant psychiatrist posts were not filled in England

The number of teenagers and young children admitted to hospital for eating disorders has soared in the past decade, alarming figures reveal.

Admissions for those aged 18 or under have more than doubled from 1,700 in 2010 to 4,500 last year. Shockingly, the number of admissions for children under 13 has tripled since 2010, rising from 74 to 229.

As Childline reported a surge in calls from young people battling eating disorders, experts warned that celebrity diet culture and social media sites were fuelling the increase. There is particular concern over ‘pro ana’ websites, which promote anorexia.

Admissions for those with eating disorders (file image) aged 18 or under have more than doubled from 1,700 in 2010 to 4,500 last year

There were also calls last night for better training to help healthcare professionals spot signs of eating disorders in young people.

Dr Agnes Ayton, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: ‘There has been a rise in children dieting, and while adults may have learned to ignore all the diet books and messages about losing weight – particularly at this time of year – children are more influenced by them.

‘They are also influenced by celebrities promoting diets on social media, as these people can be role models. For young people who are showing early signs of eating disorders, their families will tell them they are putting themselves at risk, but they can find social media groups of people who encourage this type of behaviour.

‘Healthcare professionals need to be better trained at spotting eating disorders as early diagnosis and treatment can reduce hospital admissions and save lives.’

The number of children admitted to hospital under 13 has tripled since 2010, rising from 74 to 229

The latest figures from NHS Digital show that eating disorder admissions for children aged 18 or under have more than doubled – from 1,742 in the financial year 2010-11 to 4,540 in the year 2018-19.

The figures show there were 229 hospital admissions for children under 13 in 2018-19. That is more than three times the 74 recorded in 2010-11.

Shockingly, there were ten hospital admissions for eating disorders in boys aged nine or younger last year and six admissions for girls aged nine or younger. There were a further 186 admissions in girls aged ten to 12 in 2018/19, and 27 for boys aged ten to 12.

While the numbers of eating disorders keep climbing, almost one in six consultant psychiatrist posts were not filled

Among those aged 18 or under, the most common age for hospital admissions with eating disorders in 2018-19 was between 13 and 15, with 1,056 admissions among girls in this age group and a further 53 for boys.

Eating disorders are the most deadly mental health conditions, but a recent survey found that almost one in six consultant psychiatrist posts for eating disorders in England were not filled.

Tom Quinn, of eating disorder charity Beat, said: ‘Eating disorders are extremely complex mental illnesses that develop as a result of many risk factors, and social media is never the sole and direct cause of someone developing an eating disorder. However, some content on social media can be very harmful for people suffering from an eating disorder.

Between 2017 and 2018, the equivalent of 16 calls a day were made to the NSPCC’s Childline helpline by distressed youngsters dealing with conditions such as anorexia and bulimia

‘So-called pro ana [anorexia] and pro mia [bulimia] content helps perpetuate the illnesses for people who are already suffering, and is widespread and easily accessible online.’

He said social media platforms should do more to make sure this information cannot be posted online, just as they do with images of self-harm.

Emma Thomas, chief executive of the charity Young Minds, said: ‘While there have been some improvements in community care for young people with eating disorders in recent years, it can still be difficult for children and young people to get the help they need before they reach crisis point.

‘Getting early support for an eating disorder can prevent problems from escalating, meaning young people are more likely to fully recover. The Government must make prevention and early intervention a priority for every child struggling with their mental health, to ensure that they get help as soon as they need it.’

Many young people are influenced by celebrities promoting diets on social media, as these people can be ‘role models’, according to Dr Agnes Ayton, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

Between 2017 and 2018, the equivalent of 16 calls a day were made to the NSPCC’s Childline helpline by distressed youngsters dealing with conditions such as anorexia and bulimia. Analysis has shown that children as young as 13 are being bombarded with advice about how to hide eating disorders from their loved ones or secretly dispose of food.

Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for the NHS, said: ‘Waiting times for eating disorder services are better than ever, with nearly 100 new or improved services in the community set up in recent years backed by millions in extra funding. It’s clear that while the NHS is ramping up services through our Long Term Plan, the dangerous drivers of mental ill health need to be cracked down on by the rest of society.’  

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