Eating disorders can affect people of any age and from any background

21 February 2013

11 February marked the start of Eating Disorder Awareness week organised by eating disorder charity B-eat.

This year’s theme “Everybody knows somebody “ aimed to increase awareness of eating disorders which affect some one and a half million people in the UK, as well as to counter stereotypes that eating disorders only affect young girls.

You’ll probably know the most common eating disorders - anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating and binge eating disorder. These can affect people of any age and from any background. While women are 7 to 10 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than men, and young people aged between 12 and 20 account for 80% of newly diagnosed cases, eating disorders are not restricted to these groups.

Eating disorders can develop amongst men, people in later life, and children as young as six. In the past 11 years eating disorders amongst older women have increased 42% and worryingly, women over 50 make up 78% of deaths from anorexia . Of the one and a half million people in the UK with an eating disorder, 11% are male with eating disorders most common between those aged 14 and 25.

These are worrying stats. But it’s important to know who is affected by eating disorders if we are to help people address the problem. The message of the awareness week is that eating disorders are far more common than most people think. The B-eat campaign urges people to seek help from others before their condition worsens suggesting: “whether it’s your girlfriend, a work colleague, your best friend or your brother- reach out to them and offer support”.

This message reflects what we know from our own research – that it’s vital for people to know they can talk to someone they trust about any mental health issue. We know there is still a good deal of stigma attached to talking about mental health, but it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of – not least because there are literally hundreds of thousands of other like you with the same sort of issues.

What’s also important is for everyone to know that they can get help. The first step is probably going to their GP. Eating disorders are treatable, and GPs will have lots of experience. The majority of people with anorexia or bulimia either make a full recovery or show significant improvements. Giving support as early as possible, offers the best chance of recovery. The sooner people get the help they need, the better the outcomes.

So if you think you may have a problem, or you know someone who may have – it may be hard, but please don’t just pretend it’s not happening. Help is out there.