‘Worrying’ trend sees number of children with eating disorders DOUBLE in six years as experts blame social media for fueling rise
- Some 11,800 young people were treated last year, up from 5,240 in 2016-2017
- Under NHS targets 95% of urgent cases should be seen within a week of referral
- But only 78% were seen within the timeframe in the third quarter of 2022-23
Children’s eating disorders have doubled in the last six years, damning new analysis shows.
Social media has been blamed for fuelling the rise, which saw 11,800 children and young people treated last year – up from 5,240 in 2016-17.
Almost half (45 per cent) had to wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment, a rise of almost three times over the same period.
While the majority of those hospitalised are girls and young women, the number of boys and young men requiring hospital treatment has doubled over the same period, analysis by the Children’s Commissioner found.
Taking aim at websites which promote ‘harmful eating disorders’ online, the Children’s Commissioner for England said more must be done to tackle the ‘worrying’ trend.
Social media has been blamed for fuelling the rise, which saw 11,800 children and young people treated last year – up from 5,240 in 2016-17. Almost half (45 per cent) had to wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment, a rise of almost three times over the same period
Dame Rachel de Souza said: ‘It’s worrying that children and young people are facing increasingly long waits for treatment for eating disorders – which are often serious and potentially life-threatening.
‘Young people deserve timely access to effective care.’
She added: ‘The Government must also focus on tackling some of the potential drivers of disordered eating.
‘Children need to be robustly protected from harmful eating disorder content online which can drive body image issues.’
Since 2021-22, the NHS has set a target of 95 per cent of children and young people with eating disorders beginning treatment within one week for urgent cases and four weeks for non-urgent cases.
But analysis reveals only 78 per cent of urgent cases and 81 per cent of non-urgent cases seen within the target time frame in the third quarter of 2022-23.
The number of young people receiving hospital treatment for an eating disorder has also risen, with 24,300 people admitted to hospital in 2020-21 – up 84 per cent since 2016-17.
Nearly half of these patients were under the age of 25 and the vast majority were young women and girls.
However, analysis also shows that admissions of young men have nearly doubled since 2016- 17, from 467 in 2016-17 to 909 in 2020-21.
It is estimated that around 1.25 million people in the UK currently suffer from an eating disorder, such as bulimia, anorexia or binge-eating.
Anorexia is known to have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric condition, which is why the Children’s Commissioner is calling for children and young people to have access to effective, and potentially life-saving treatment in a timely manner.
Mrs De Souza added: ‘Now is a critical moment with the Government’s Major Conditions Strategy to tackle this growing issue and ensure we remain focused on the needs of children.
‘I hope that in merging the Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan with other major conditions in this strategy, the focus on children’s mental health is not diluted. I have submitted my response and look forward to seeing the Government’s strategy.’
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