Dr Balu Pitchiah MBBS, MRCPsych, CCST,MBA (OXON)

Are Eating Disorders Becoming More Common?

The number of people seeking eating disorders treatment in the UK has been increasing steadily for many years. The rise is often blamed on the influences of the media and social media, but other forces are also involved in the increase in this and other mental health problems.

How Common Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders affect all kinds of people, including men and women, the young and the old:

  • Approximately 1.25 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.
  • About 11% of those affected are men and boys.
  • Bulimia is the most common eating disorder, accounting for about 40% of all cases.
  • Anorexia is the second most common, affecting 10% of people with eating disorders.
  • Binge eating disorder and unspecified eating disorders account for the other 50% of cases.
  • The number of hospital admissions for eating disorders treatment rose by about 7% a year between 2005 and 2013.

Why Are Eating Disorders on the Rise?

The increase in eating disorder has been attributed to many different causes:

  • Unrealistic beauty standards in the media are making it harder for people to recognise what is normal and healthy.
  • Social media adds to the pressure and makes it harder to escape as people are always connected and being pressured to post their own images.
  • Trends such as clean eating have encouraged people to focus on what they eat in a way that can be harmful for those who are vulnerable to eating disorders.
  • Men are also under increasing pressure to look good, which has led to a rapid rise in eating disorders in this group in recent years.
  • Young people are also under pressure due to exams, family problems and other issues.
  • More older people are being diagnosed with eating disorders too, which has been linked to different sources of stress than for younger people, such as divorce and financial worries.

All of these different factors may be playing a role. However, while there has certainly been an increase in the number of people receiving eating disorders treatment, this is also partly due to better awareness and diagnosis of these problems. People whose symptoms would have been missed or ignored in the past are now more likely to get the help they need.