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Eating disorder charity slams new Government anti-obesity proposals

Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, today criticised the measures set out by the Government to address obesity. The charity recently published a report on the risks to people with eating disorders caused by government anti-obesity strategies, and asked Number 10 and Public Health England to take its recommendations into account when planning the current campaign.

Drawing on the harms and distress caused by previous anti-obesity campaigns, Beat asked the Prime Minister and Public Health England to avoid a repeat by only using evidence-based tactics, avoiding the promotion of crash dieting, and ensuring that eating disorder experts were consulted. This has been ignored on all three counts.

Beat’s Chief Executive, Andrew Radford, says:

‘It is extremely disappointing that the Government have chosen to put at risk the health of people affected by eating disorders.

‘We recognise the importance of addressing obesity, but the risks of stigmatising and poorly-considered campaigns on those affected by eating disorders must be taken into account.

‘In particular, we are concerned that the campaign will encourage people with eating disorders to use the promoted weight loss app, which fails to prevent under 18s or people with low-weight from using it, despite it not being suitable for them. Without suitable safeguards, what could be useful in helping people with obesity risks harming people with eating disorders.

‘It is also worrying to see a renewed emphasis on measures such as calorie labelling, as evidence clearly shows that these risk exacerbating eating disorders of all kinds.

‘Furthermore, we are disappointed that the Government has chosen to use language that blames people living with obesity. Instead we would like more attention to the complex causes of obesity, which for some people can include eating disorders.’

Beat welcomes the Government’s intention to increase resources for NHS weight management services. Noting that up to 30% of people using these services are affected by binge eating disorder, we call for a nuanced approach to ensure that people with BED are properly supported.

Eating disorders are devastating mental illnesses, affecting over 1.25 million people in the UK, with anorexia nervosa having the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition. Beat urges the Government to carry out an immediate review of these dangerous proposals to ensure that people with experience of eating disorders are not further put at risk.