More than 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders.
Sufferers are aged 8 to 80, boys and girls, women and men and over the last 25 years, the number of sufferers has rocketed.
There are many possible reasons.
We are bombarded hourly with images of tiny models, skinny screen and tabloid celebrities; there’s an obsession with gyms and exercise; a constant barrage of advertising; pressure to diet, eat low-fat, low-calorie, ‘light’ foods and follow ‘healthy eating’ regimes.
We live life on the run, eat ‘on the go’.
School halls aren’t big enough to seat every student – in my day, lunch meant a teacher at my table watching me eat – even the semolina. If children take a packed lunch, they can give it away or bin it, and we’re none the wiser.
Girls can be physically mature at eight or nine.
It can make you a target if you’re larger than your friends.
There’s bullying and name-calling in Parliament, in playgrounds, at work, and pressure to have a perfect body shape.
We have an escalating divorce rate, so many of us are single again, but society pressures us to have partners; we should be half of a couple, not an individual.
Feeling inadequate and worthless are common in anorexia and bulimia sufferers.
The list above offers clues to some of the triggers.
Eating disorders need swift recognition and a better response from our NHS.
Most patients struggle to find treatment.
Help can take months to kick in.
GPs may not have any training in mental health at all, and have told patients to go away as they are “not ill enough” to qualify for help.
When patients are admitted to hospital, nurses often have no psychiatric training and no idea how to set a safe ‘target’ weight.
Patients are weighed with their clothes on, with pockets filled with kitchen weights, or whose stomachs are filled with three or four litres of water.
Families don’t get the support they need, or clear-cut advice.
Patients see a different doctor or specialist at each appointment, and appointments are too far apart.
No one should die from an eating disorder, but parents and carers of children with these conditions face a serious problem: the Children Act 1989, which says children of 16 are capable of making their own decisions about treatment.
Anorexic patients rarely want to eat voluntarily – although many are crying out for help, the guilt about eating means they need someone to help them to eat, not someone to ask their permission as to whether they would like to eat.
Despite an excellent ruling a few years ago, which said anyone who wants to starve themselves to death is not competent to make decisions, we still require 16-year-olds to give written consent before they can be admitted to a medical unit.
Before the Act, staff fed under 18s if and when necessary under parental consent.
Now, if they refuse to eat, staff won’t dare use a feeding tube for fear of being sued. What a ridiculous situation!
Only sectioning a young person under the Mental Health Acts allows compulsory treatment.
Being sectioned is a ridiculously serious response to the problem.
Being sectioned smashes any hope a child in recovery might have of joining the armed forces or becoming a doctor or nurse, which is sad because when they recover, many of these children want to work in the caring professions.
We have to change the Mental Health Acts so those who care for young people with eating disorders can use something short of sectioning.
Every child who develops an eating disorder has access to first-class treatment, rather than the cobbled-together provision most have to accept.
It is time this life-threatening illness was taken more seriously, so fewer lives are lost, recovery comes quickly and families don’t suffer the terrible consequences that often come with loving a patient with an eating disorder.