Eating Disorders at University

What’s the issue?

For many people, starting university is a huge change, which may involve leaving home for the first time, brand new people and experiences, and new social, financial, and academic challenges. For those suffering from an eating disorder, or vulnerable to developing one, it can be a particularly difficult time. Furthermore, while anyone of any age can develop an eating disorder, girls and young women aged 12-20 are at especially high risk.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2011), in a section on eating disorders in their landmark report entitled ‘Mental health of students in higher education’, said:

“There is a relatively high prevalence of eating disorders in student populations... Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are widely recognised in the student population.”

Our campaign aims

Increased awareness of eating disorders at universities can make a big difference to those suffering or who might develop an eating disorder during their time studying. We intended to raise awareness, as well as learn more about how eating disorders affect those attending university so that we could help universities to better support students suffering.

What we did

We carried out a survey of over 200 people who had been to university and also had an eating disorder to learn more about their experiences. This included people who had recovered before attending university, people who had moved to university with an eating disorder and people who developed an eating disorder while at university.

We also got in touch with student unions and counselling services with details of how they could provide support to students, as well as researching what information and support they already had in place.

How you can help

We’re continuing to work with universities to help improve the support offered to students. You can get involved by:

  • Distributing our Tips posters, aimed at raising awareness of the early signs of eating disorders, at your university.
  • Contact your university’s counselling service or medical centre to see what information they have in place for people with eating disorders, or who are worried about themselves or someone they know. Just linking to Beat’s Helpline gives people somewhere to turn if they’re feeling concerned.