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Information for everyone

Information for everyone

Information that is helpful for everyone affected by eating disorders. 

Why might someone develop an eating disorder?

Although food is a key component in eating disorders, we recognise that eating disorders are not 'all about food'.

However, whether the disorder is Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Compulsive Eating or a mixture, the commonality is that eating disorders are all 'coping mechanisms'. They are expressions of psychological and emotional problems in which people use food, albeit in different ways, in an attempt to cope with and manage their distress. 

How serious a concern are eating disorders in the UK?

Current estimates put the total number of cases (diagnosed and undiagnosed) of eating disorders within the United Kingdom to be 1.25 million. Recent statistics from Beat suggest that around 25% of those affected by an eating disorder are male.

The impact of COVID-19 pandemic has seen a significant rise in the number of people affected by eating disorders. Recent research by the NHS (November 2023) identified that 2.6% of 11 to 16 year olds and 12.5% of 17-19 year olds were found to have a eating disorder, compared to 0.8% and 0.5% respectively in 2017. Even higher percentages of young people were found to have broader difficulties with eating that wouldn't be classified as clinical eating disorders, but nevertheless significantly impacted their relationships with food and eating: 12.3% of children aged 11 to 16 years were found to have 'eating problems', and 59.4% in young people aged 17 to 19 years.

It is estimated (Hay et al, 2017) that of those with eating disorders, 8% experience anorexia, 5% experience avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), 22% experience binge eating disorder, 19% bulimia, and 47% were estimated to have other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED).

How many people are affected by eating disorders in the South and West of England?

Based on Beat's estimate of 1.25 million people in the UK having eating disorders, SWEDA estimates that around 1104,000 people across the South West live with eating disorders, with children and young people making up a disproportionate number of those affected. This includes women of all ages, the majority being between 14 - 35 years of age. Nationally, an estimated 25% of people affected are male, but of the clients who reach out to SWEDA for support, only 10% are male. Eating disorders impact on family and friends of sufferers so the estimated figure for need in the region is much higher.

Statistics are still very approximate and much more research is needed for us to understand the impact of eating disorders.

Despite there being a great deal of written material, research papers, personal accounts and several sets of 'Diagnostic Criteria' relating to eating disorders, views on eating disorders vary. Researchers and experts have yet to agree on a definitive model or treatment approach. The field of eating disorders is complex and there exists a variety of views, theories and opinions. It is fair to say that a clear understanding remains elusive and uncertainty still persists in many areas. In light of this, the process of coming to terms with and understanding these conditions can be extremely confusing for people with an eating disorder and those in close contact with them. However, support is available to help people gain an understanding of eating disorders and to get help that can lead to a full recovery. 

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