The number of children being admitted to hospital with eating disorders has soared by almost 70% since lockdown began, according to new NHS figures.
Experts have said that repeated lockdowns, long periods of home schooling and isolation, is to blame and has caused ‘devastating’ effects on young people’s mental health. New NHS data shows 4,238 hospital admissions among children under 17 between April and October 2021, which is a 69% rise from pre-pandemic levels in the same period, which were 2,508.
Dr Agnes Ayton, the chairman of the eating disorders faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists has said: ‘The hidden epidemic of eating disorders has surged during the pandemic with many community services now over-stretched and unable to treat the sheer number of people needing help. We are at the point where we cannot afford to let this go on any longer.’
Tom Quinn, Director of External Affairs at Beat, the eating disorder charity, told Grazia: 'It is extremely worrying that more children are being admitted to hospital with an eating disorder across England. The sooner somebody accesses treatment, the better their chances of making a full recovery, and hospital treatment is typically reserved for patients who are most unwell. The fact that hospitalisations are rising suggests that children are not getting eating disorder support in their local area quickly enough.
'The pandemic has had a huge impact on young people with eating disorders. Being away from friends and support networks during lockdowns, increased anxiety, and the ongoing uncertainty of when life as “normal” will return are just a few factors that children have been dealing with since March 2020. However, it is important to remember that the increase in children needing eating disorder treatment has been an issue before Covid-19, with the people we support highlighting long waiting times and gaps in between treatment.
'We urge the Government to invest in eating disorder services as well as training for healthcare staff, to ensure that eating disorders are spotted and treated at the earliest opportunity. We also advise that the Government publishes more data on eating disorders, so that we can see exactly how big this problem is and how many adults as well as children are waiting for support.
'If parents are worried about their child, we’d encourage them to reach out to them as soon as possible. Talking during a car journey or a short walk, rather than at the dinner table, can help people to feel more comfortable about opening up. If you are still concerned about your child's health, please reach out to their GP and ask for an urgent appointment.'
If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity****, 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk. Beat also recently launched a new platform for carers called The POD, which includes advice from eating disorder professionals on how to care for a loved one while supporting your own mental health.