We estimate that around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. While there have been some significant and well-designed studies conducted in the UK in recent years, overall there has not been sufficient research to draw firm conclusions about the prevalence of eating disorders in the UK. Therefore, our estimate is based predominately on research carried out in other countries (primarily other western European countries, Northern European countries, the USA and Australia). Of course, this is not ideal, given the different social and cultural contexts and access to treatment between countries.
We will revise this estimate as new data becomes available. We are in the process of attempting to obtain unpublished data that would reduce the uncertainty in this estimate.
We believe approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. Around 25% of those affected by an eating disorder are male.
Recent research from the NHS information centre showed that up to 6.4% of adults displayed signs of an eating disorder (Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 2007).
The Health and Care Information Centre published figures in February 2014 showed an 8% rise in the number of inpatient hospital admissions in the 12 months previous to October 2013. The Costs of Eating Disorders report found that this is indicative of the trend in increasing prevalence over time: a 34% increase in admissions since 2005-06 - approximately 7% each year.
Exact prevalence rates of eating disorders are difficult to gauge. A 2017 study by Hay et al found that anorexia accounted for 8% of cases, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) 5%, binge eating disorder 22%, bulimia 19%, and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) 47%.
Although many eating disorders develop during adolescence, it is not at all unusual for people to develop eating disorders earlier or later in life. In fact, we are aware of cases of anorexia in children as young as 6 and some research reports cases developing in women in their 70s. Outside of the stereotypical age bracket, people are less likely to be appropriately diagnosed due to a lack of understanding and awareness of eating disorders in these age groups.
Research carried out in Australia suggests that the average duration of anorexia is eight years and five years for bulimia. However, these illnesses can also become severe and enduring, lasting for many years and having a hugely debilitating effect on the sufferers and their families. The sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full recovery.
Yes. We are lucky enough to work with some very inspirational people and we hear some very uplifting stories of recovery. Research suggests that around 46% of anorexia patients fully recover, a 33% improving and 20% remaining chronically ill. Similar research into bulimia suggests that 45% make a full recovery, 27% improve considerably and 23% suffer chronically.
Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide. Bulimia is associated with severe medical complications, and binge eating disorder sufferers often experience the medical complications associated with obesity. In every case, eating disorders severely affect the quality of life of the sufferer and those that care for them.
How should people with eating disorders seek help?
The first port of call for a sufferer should always be their making an appointment with their GP. The Beat Helpline is available for support and information, and can give people suggestions for how to approach their doctor. After seeking advice from your GP, it can be useful to search Beat’s HelpFinder to find specialised eating disorder help near you.
Eating disorders are complex with no one sole cause, but we know from research that individuals might be predisposed due to their genetic or biological make up.
Some research has found that female relatives of anorexia sufferers were 11.4 times more likely to suffer from anorexia compared to relatives of unaffected participants. For female relatives of those with bulimia, the likelihood of developing bulimia was 3.7 times that of those with unaffected relatives.
It is not yet clear how much of this link between family members is genetic and how much is due to environmental factors.
You cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. While it is true that some sufferers of anorexia are severely emaciated, some are not, and the majority of eating disorder sufferers do not have anorexia. Those suffering from bulimia may be within the normal weight range or may be overweight, while those with binge eating disorder are often overweight.
Professor John Morgan at Leeds Partnership NHS Foundation Trust designed the SCOFF screening tool to indicate a possible eating disorder. A score of two or more positive answers is a positive screen.