NEW figures showing a surge in eating disorders among the young are likely to be “the tip of the iceberg”, an expert has claimed.
Author and counsellor Lynn Crilly says many young girls and boys will be “suffering in silence” with conditions like anorexia and bulimia.
Ms Crilly’s comments come as data shows more than one in 10 of 17 to 19-year-olds in England who took part in a major survey this year had an eating disorder. That’s a rise from less than 1% of that age group six years ago.
Lynn said: “The new figures released showing that eating disorders are four times higher in girls than boys and the alarming rates they have risen since pre-pandemic, are deeply concerning.
“But remember these are the diagnosed ones. Eating disorders present in many guises so there are probably many younger both boys and girls suffering in silence or unable to access the help they need.
“Living in a fast, technology fuelled world with access to the internet and social media in their pockets 24 hours a day, means many of our young people are growing up feeling confused, challenged, and inadequate and some both boys and girls are easily influenced by what they read and see.
“Having experienced eating disorders both personally through my daughter 20 years ago and now professionally, it saddens me.
“The help and support is sporadic and inconsistent leaving many sufferers and their loved ones feeling desperate and alone.
“Early intervention is key for a fuller, more successful recovery and from what I am seeing this is not the case for many , so the eating disorder grows stronger and will be harder to treat.
“The young people of today are tomorrow’s future and unless they are given the treatment and support they need and deserve then things will only get worse.”
A report out this week found that among younger people – those aged 11 to 16 – rates of eating disorders were four times higher in girls than boys, according to the Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2023 report, published by NHS England. Overall, a fifth (20.3%) of eight to 16-year-olds had a probable mental disorder, the findings showed. This rose to almost a quarter (23.3%) among 17 to 19-year-olds, while it was 21.7% among 20 to 25-year-olds. After a rise in rates of probable mental disorders between 2017 and 2020, prevalence continued at similar levels in all age groups between 2022 and 2023, NHS England said. But the Children’s Society said the rates remain “unacceptably high”, while NHS Providers, which represents trusts, called for an “urgent cross-government action to get a grip on a persistent crisis”.
The report saw information collected during February to April this year, covering 2,370 children and young people aged eight to 25 years old in England. NHS England said responses from parents, children and young people were used to estimate whether it was “unlikely”, “possible” or “probable” that a child might have a mental disorder. The survey, carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), and the universities of Cambridge and Exeter, is described by NHS England as the country’s best data source for trends in children and young people’s mental health and how these have changed since 2017. People who took part were questioned about eating disorders for the first time since the 2017 survey, and the findings showed that 12.5% of 17 to 19-year-olds had an eating disorder as of this year, up from 0.8% in 2017. Since 2017, eating disorder rates rose both in young women (from 1.6% to 20.8%) and young men (from 0.0% to 5.1%) in this age group. Eating disorders were identified in 2.6% of 11 to 16-year-olds, NHS England said, which was up from 0.5% in 2017.