Recent data from the Health Survey for England 2019 Eating Disorders report demonstrates that a fifth of women and 13% of men in England test positive for an eating disorder. Here’s our response to the news.
There’s been a sharp intake of breath in response to the recent data from the Health Survey for England 2019 Eating Disorders report.
As eating disorder specialists, we’ve known that there are many more people suffering with eating disorders than usually reported. Yet, it is still staggering to learn that it’s a fifth of women and 13% of men in England who could test positive for an eating disorder.
These statistics respond to a pervasive and damaging myth in the eating disorder sector: that there is “one way” to have an eating disorder.
This myth contributes to misdiagnosis and missed referral opportunities. It also colludes with the eating disorder; reinforcing the belief that sufferers should look different or eat less in order to get the help that they so desperately need and deserve. It’s the “not thin enough” rhetoric that leads to so much mental and physical pain for individuals suffering, as well as their loved ones.
Whilst this is the first time participants have been asked to complete an eating disorders questionnaire, we have to ask: what has led to such high numbers? Should we have done more as a society to prevent so many people from scoring positive?
The answer to the latter is, of course, yes. Early intervention is crucial when it comes to eating disorders and to the prevention of crisis and hospitalisation. We need to recognise that eating disorders come in all forms, shapes and sizes, that anyone of any age or background could develop one, and that they can overwhelm our entire lives, relationships and careers.
Addressing this astonishing statistic begins with recognising that people need access to services at different points in their eating disorder journey – way before hospitalisation is required. Treatment that takes place in the community is one such option.
We also have to recognise that our modern lives are clearly in conflict with our mental health. Whilst we know that there are significant issues associated with social media, technology and our hyper-connectivity – have we considered how we’re learning to maladaptively cope with these things?
This report has illuminated a blind spot that could reconstruct the way we understand, identify and treat eating disorders.