‘Worrying’ trend sees children DOUBLE with eating disorders in six years, as experts blame social media for driving the rise
- Some 11,800 young people were treated last year, up from 5,240 in 2016-2017.
- According to NHS targets, 95% of urgent cases must be seen within a week of referral
- But only 78% were seen within the Q3 2022-23 time frame.
Children’s eating disorders have doubled in the past six years, a damning new analysis shows.
Social media has been blamed for fueling the surge, which saw 11,800 children and young people treated last year, up from 5,240 in 2016-17.
Nearly half (45 percent) had to wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment, a nearly three-fold increase over the same period.
While the majority of those hospitalized are girls and young women, the number of boys and young men requiring hospital treatment has doubled over the same period, according to an analysis by the Children’s Commissioner.
Taking aim at websites promoting ‘harmful eating disorders’ online, England’s Children’s Commissioner said more must be done to address the ‘worrisome’ trend.
Social media has been blamed for fueling the surge, which saw 11,800 children and young people treated last year, up from 5,240 in 2016-17. Nearly half (45 percent) had to wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment, a nearly three-fold increase over the same period.
Dame Rachel de Souza said: “It is worrying that children and young people face increasingly long waits for treatment for eating disorders, which are often serious and life-threatening.”
‘Young people deserve timely access to effective care.’
She added: ‘The government also needs to focus on tackling some of the potential drivers of disordered eating.
“Children need to be robustly protected from harmful eating disorder content online that can lead to body image issues.”
From 2021-22, the NHS has set a target of 95% of children and young people with eating disorders starting treatment within one week for urgent cases and four weeks for non-urgent cases.
But the analysis reveals that only 78% of urgent cases and 81% of non-urgent cases were seen on schedule in Q3 2022-23.
The number of youth receiving hospital treatment for an eating disorder has also increased, with 24,300 people admitted to hospital in 2020-21, an 84% increase over 2016-17.
Almost half of these patients were under the age of 25 and the vast majority were young women and girls.
However, the analysis also shows that young male admissions 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 all psychiatric conditions, which is why the Children’s Commissioner is calling for children and young people to have access to effective and potentially life-saving treatment timely.
Ms De Souza added: ‘Now is a critical time with the Government’s Headline Conditions Strategy to address this growing problem and ensure we remain focused on the needs of children.
‘I hope that by merging the Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan with other important conditions in this strategy, the focus on children’s mental health will not be diluted. I have sent my reply and look forward to seeing the Government’s strategy.’