Two Little, Too Late: it's time to start taking eating disorders seriously
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
All too often, those who suffer from an eating disorder are encouraged by those around them to ‘just eat more’. If only it were that simple. Deemed to be another result of the pandemic, the UK has seen the number of eating disorder cases soar, highlighting flaws in the current system of treatment available to those suffering with these illnesses. It is clear that in order to tackle the misconceptions and stigma attached to eating disorders, along with the recent surge in cases, greater education on the topic is needed.
When placed under the microscope, it emerged that on average, across medical schools in the UK, less than two hours of teaching are devoted to eating disorders. Additionally, one in five medical schools do not provide any teaching on eating disorders at all. If trained medical professionals are not equipped to identify early signs and symptoms, or provide intervention, conducive to helping those suffering from an eating disorder, the rest of society is left feeling increasingly helpless. With nowhere to turn, family and friends remain unaware as to how best to help their loved ones in a time of need.
Out of all psychiatric disorders, anorexia has the highest mortality rate, given the complications that result from the illness, including suicide. Early intervention is crucial to promoting recovery, as well as preventing the illness from becoming more serious. It is integral that doctors are able to identify the early signs and symptoms of eating disorders, thus intervening as soon as possible. However, although the severity of eating disorders cannot be denied, they are treatable. This means that, with the right education we will be able to promote and enforce change. In light of the lack of medical training that our future doctors are receiving, it appears there is a tangible way to tackle this staggering mortality rate.
In a bid to raise awareness and combat misconceptions, National Eating Disorder Week is an annual campaign that seeks to inform the public of the realities of such disorders, alongside providing help and support to affected individuals and their families. The education that results from such campaigns can significantly help to reduce the impacts that are experienced by people who are suffering from an eating disorder. Yet this is not enough, for the power is in the hands of our future medical professionals. They hold the potential to make life changing differences to those living with an eating disorder, however this demands more than a mere two hours of training.
As social media algorithms become increasingly precise, simultaneously targeting those of us who are the most vulnerable in society, eating disorders are not going to disappear. Research highlights that eating disorders are on the rise, inpatient hospital admissions of people aged 17 and under increased by a staggering 41% in 2021, with admissions rising in every area of the UK. Furthermore, the misconceptions and resultant lack of awareness continue to leave many more people, who are suffering from an eating disorder, undiagnosed, with no access to the help that they need.
Whilst the education system is evidently failing those suffering from an eating disorder, that does not mean to say that we are too. Coupled together, both an increase in education for medical students, as well as a substantial effort to educate the wider community on the realities of eating disorders, provides an opportunity to drastically decrease the impacts that eating disorders reverberate throughout society. In the meantime, if you are worried that a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder, key signs and symptoms to look out for include: preoccupations with calories and dieting, withdrawal from social situations, skipping meals, following food rituals or noticeable weight fluctuations. To gain further information and advice please visit Beat and NEDA. Collectively, we are each able to play a part in supporting those who are suffering from an eating disorder.