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New funding for eating disorder research announced!

Beat is very pleased to report a significant new investment in UK eating disorder research. A group of research funders, led by the Medical Research Council (MRC), has announced over £4m to help the field grow by strengthening collaboration between researchers — including with those that usually focus on other conditions.

This investment follows a recent All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Eating Disorders inquiry, which found a ‘cycle of underfunding’ holding back UK eating disorder research and called for targeted investment to attract and retain more researchers.

At present, eating disorder research receives very little funding. UK investment amounted to just £1.13 per person per year from 2009-2019, and just 1% of total UK mental health research funding (from 2015-2019)*. There are serious inequities within eating disorder research with certain groups often overlooked.

Research is crucial as there is an urgent need to improve our understanding around what causes eating disorders, how best to treat them and how to prevent them developing. Without this, eating disorders will continue to represent a significant public health issue, disrupting millions of lives while leading to high economic costs.

So what did we do?

From late 2020 to spring 2021, Beat supported the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Eating Disorders to carry out an inquiry into research funding in the UK. Evidence was received from funders, academics, clinicians, professional bodies, charities and people with lived experience. Its findings were published last September in a report that Beat compiled on behalf of the APPG titled ‘Breaking the Cycle’. This report described how a historic lack of investment has led to a vicious cycle, whereby the field has only been able to recruit and retain a small number of researchers and research centres, in turn limiting the research done. This has helped stigmatising attitudes to persist. Taken together, all this leaves the field ill-equipped to compete successfully for the funding it needs.

This year, recognising the need to do more to support eating disorder research, the Medical Research Council (MRC) brought together several funders and academics, along with Beat to discuss the best ways to support eating disorder research in the UK. An online workshop was organised with academics and people with lived experience, who together helped shape this new funding call.

Beat’s Chief Executive, Andrew Radford said: ‘We warmly welcome this joint investment from the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Medical Research Foundation (MRF) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), with its focus on helping to break the cycle of underfunding and promoting research with underserved communities.

'We’d also like to thank the members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on eating disorders, as well as the campaigners who have spoken out on this issue. This is a fantastic result and an important step forward for eating disorder research in the UK.

‘Now we must ensure that this momentum is maintained and built on over the long term, until UK eating disorder research has the capacity to achieve the breakthroughs in knowledge and understanding that we need to beat eating disorders.’

You can find details of the funding call on the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) website here.

*International Alliance of Mental Health Research Funders (IAMHRF) (2020) The inequities of Mental Health Research Funding.