According to the Priory Group – one of the biggest providers of treatment for eating disorders in the UK – last year the number of adult patients admitted for treatment rose by a staggering 15%.
Priory Group consultant psychiatrist, Dr Alex Yellowlees claims the growing trend for ‘selfies’ – mobile phone self-portraits – is fuelling this increase.
He adds that online anorexia ‘diaries’ are the biggest culprits, as they expose people who may be susceptible to eating disorders to a heightened level of psychological pressure.
“Some people will take repeated pictures of themselves at various stages of their illness, and send them to others,” he says.
“They want to keep a record of their illness and see for themselves, as it were, the progress they think they are making towards anorexia, but they will also transmit the images to other sufferers on occasions.”
Despite a crackdown on ‘thinspiration’ sites promoting anorexia and bulimia, Dr Yellowlees is concerned there is still a large number in operation conveying potentially harmful messages.
He also suggests the increased use of smartphone apps is escalating the suffering for people with eating disorders, as many provide calorie counting and fitness tips.
The term ‘eating disorders’ refers to a group of conditions, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and the lesser know Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS).
According to beat charity, around 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder, of which 10% have anorexia, 40% have bulimia and the rest fall into the binge-eating and EDNOS categories.
Multiple factors can contribute to the development of an eating disorder, but there is a strong correlation between the growing cultural focus on body image and the number of cases.
According to the Priory Group data, in total 535 patients were admitted for treatment for eating disorders in 2014 – up from 87 the previous year. A third of these people were aged between 18 and 25.
Certainly within this time ‘selfies’ have become a cultural norm, so it is likely they may have contributed to this increase.