Anorexia cases are almost DOUBLE estimates in 2006, figures suggest

Anorexia cases have DOUBLED among eight to 12-year-olds in the UK over the past decade ‘because of the pressures of social media on children’

  • Data shows 3.2 children aged 8-12 per 100,000 are diagnosed per year
  • In 2006, the figure was 1.5 per 100,000, suggesting an increase over time
  • For all youngsters, anorexia affects girls of white ethnicity in England the most
  • The estimates are the first in ten years, with a lack of official data existing 

Anorexia is twice as common among young children in the UK now than it was a decade ago, researchers claim.

Around 3.2 youngsters out of every 100,000 eight to 12-year-olds were diagnosed with the eating disorder in 2015.

This is double that of the estimated 1.5 cases per 100,000 in 2006, according to scientists at King’s College London.

Experts blamed the rise on social media, from the pressure to be ‘liked’ online and the abundance of fit celebrity images. 

The prevalence of the often fatal eating disorder in younger children has ‘increased over time’, the researchers concluded. 

Hospital admissions for eating disorders generally have doubled in the past six years in England, according to NHS figures also released today.

There were 19,116 occasions where patients were rushed into hospital last year, 532 of which were children under 12 years old.

Anorexia is rising among children in the UK, according to the first estimates in a decade

There is no precise information on the overall prevalence of eating disorders, despite them having the highest death rates of all mental illnesses.  

Some studies say up to 1.25million people suffer from eating disorders throughout the UK, while other figures estimate it to be closer to 600,000. 

Prevalence estimates in young people under 20 range from 0.3 per cent to 0.6 per cent, the researchers said. 

Dr Hristina Petkova and colleagues sought to update the current decade-old estimates of anorexia among children and teenagers.

They used data from a period of eight months in 2015 from specialist psychiatrists across the UK who report to The Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Surveillance System.

HOW MANY CASES WERE DIAGNOSED? 

In the eight-month period in 2015:

England: 213

Scotland: 44

Northern Ireland: 41

Ireland: 7

Wales: 0

Total: 305 

A total of 305 new cases were diagnosed among eight to 17-year-olds, most of them in young women (91 per cent) and of white ethnicity (92 per cent). 

Based on these figures, the researchers calculated an annual anorexia incidence rate of 26 for every 100,000 girls and two for every 100,000 boys.

This calculates to an overall rate of 14 new cases for every 100,000 children and teens aged eight to 17. 

The researchers said it was difficult to compare this with previous estimates which had included data for 18 and 19 year olds.  

The rates of diagnosis rose steadily with age, peaking at the age of 16, according to the results published in the BMJ Open.  

Around 30 cases of anorexia were diagnosed out of every 100,000 children aged between 14 and 16-years-old.  

There are a number of risks for eating disorders, including genetics and personality traits – such as low self-esteem, obsessive personality or perfectionism.   

Cultural pressures are increasingly becoming a problem, particularly in the form of social media, according to experts.

Alexia Dempsey, a specialist eating disorder dietitian at The Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in south-west London, who was not involved in the study, told MailOnline: ‘More than half of children, by the age of 10, have access to social media.

‘They will likely be viewing “idealised” or heavily edited pictures and images, as well as posting their own images for the external judgement of their peers and strangers in the form of “likes” and “shares”.’

Instagram and Facebook have an age limit of 13, but have been criticised in the past for failing to enforce the rule strictly.

Instagram bosses recently revealed it will censor posts glorifying or promoting cosmetic surgery and fat-burning products as part of a major clampdown on the causes fueling body image worries among youngsters. 

Ms Dempsey said: ‘It is easy to see how young minds might be influenced by, or obsess over, their favourite athlete or celebrity. 

‘We also see young people who have heard “anti-obesity” messages and cut out sugar and “junk food” at school, or received information through media channels and then followed this advice regardless of their body weight being in normal range, in an attempt to feel healthy or “better about themselves”.

‘This lack of nutrition can lead to obsessional thoughts about food, impaired cognitive functioning and feelings of low mood and anxiety – and eventually an eating disorder.’  

Leading eating disorder charity Beat conceded there is evidence anorexia – and eating disorders – are increasing in children.

Director of external affairs, Tom Quinn, said: ‘There are several reasons that there may be more eight to 12-year-olds being referred to a mental health service. 

‘While this rise in the number of young children being diagnosed with anorexia could mean that the condition is developing at an earlier age than in the past, it could also be due to improvement in the ability of healthcare professionals to identify children with anorexia. 

‘We strongly endorse the recommendation of the researchers that service providers and commissioners should consider the possibility of an increase in anorexia among younger children.’

Current estimates for anorexia in youngsters are mostly derived from GP records. 

This study was based on data given by specialist psychiatrists, but not all treatment centres in the UK and Ireland have these.

Therefore, the estimation is not clear-cut, Mr Quinn said. ‘The real number of sufferers could be even higher across all age bands,’ he said. 

‘In addition, some young people may not be identified as having an eating disorder, so they may not receive a referral to a mental health service.’   

Official figures released today show there were 350 admissions to hospital a week last year for people suffering an eating disorder, mostly anorexia.

According to NHS digital, 4,008 were logged as teenagers under the age of 19, 374 for ten to 12-year-olds, and 158 aged nine or younger.

Rates have increased by 23 per cent among women aged 26 to 40 in the past year alone. 

WHAT IS ANOREXIA?

Anorexia is a serious mental illnesses where a person restricts their food intake, which often causes them to be severely underweight.

Many also exercise excessively.

Some sufferers may experience periods of bingeing, followed by purging. 

Sufferers often have a distorted view of themselves and think they are larger than they really are.

Untreated, patients can suffer loss of muscle and bone strength, as well as depression, low libido and menstruation ceasing in women.

In severe cases, patients can experience heart problems and organ damage.

Behavioural signs of anorexia include people saying they have already eaten or will do later, as well as counting calories, missing meals, hiding food and eating slowly.

As well as weight loss, sufferers may experience insomnia, constipation, bloating, feeling cold, hair loss, and swelling of the hands, face and feet.

Treatment focuses on therapy and self-help groups to encourage healthy eating and coping mechanisms.

Source: Beat Eating Disorders

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