According to NHS figures, the number of pre-teens being treated for eating disorders has risen significantly in the last four years and units are now having to turn people away because they aren’t ‘thin enough’.
The official statistics in question show that over 6,500 children and teenagers were treated in 2010-2011 for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, compared to 1,718 in 2007-2008.
Within these statistics it was revealed that 443 children receiving treatment were under the age of 13 – a number that has tripled over the last four years. Among this number were 79 under the age of 10 and a worrying 56 under the age of five.
Eating disorder charities believe this steep increase reflects the rising number of children struggling to deal with a combination of outside pressures such as; celebrity images, earlier puberty, obesity fears and cyber bullying.
Susan Ringwood, spokesperson from ED charity Beat, said:
“There is a toxic combination of pressures on children which is quite unrelenting and incessant; there is little escape. There is the pressure to be perfect, to be slender, all over the Internet so that we are getting body concerns from children of seven, eight and nine.”
Susan goes on to point out that the increasing sexualisation of children, earlier puberty ages and cyber-bullying all contribute to this rise in sufferers.
Research by Beat found that a quarter of patients requiring treatment face a six-month plus wait for an outpatient appointment. Their study of 500 eating disorder sufferers also found that 40% were turned away from hospitals, as their Body Mass Index was not low enough.
Susan points out that this means hospitals are effectively telling patients who already think they aren’t thin enough that they need to lose more weight if they want treatment – a dangerous sentiment on all counts.
Eating disorders can affect all ages and genders. If you think you might have a problem with your eating habits, or are worried about someone you know, you may find it helpful to read our eating disorder fact-sheet. From this page you will also be able to browse our directory to find a counsellor in your area who deals with eating disorders.