Eating disorders in the UK
Eating disorders are increasingly common in the UK, especially amongst girls aged between 16 and 19. It is estimated that anorexia nervosa affects 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2000 men and bulimia affects around 8 in every 100 women; it is much rarer in males, with male bulimia only representing 10 percent of cases of bulimia.
An eating disorder is characterised by an abnormal attitude to food, which often causes people to become obsessed with the way they look and increasingly concerned with losing weight. There are three main types of eating disorder; these are anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating.
Who is affected by eating disorders?
Anyone can be affected by an eating disorder but they are most common in young women aged between 16 and 20. Binge eating is more common in both older women and men and usually develops around the age of 30. Statistics have also shown a recent increase in the number of male patients with eating disorders.
What causes eating disorders?
There can be a number of different reasons why an individual develops an eating disorder. Often, an innocent desire to lose a couple of pounds turns into an obsessive urge to lose more and more weight, especially if people feel their confidence is boosted by other people saying they look great because they’ve lost weight. There may also be a number of different triggers which may result in an obsessive relationship with food, as well as a number of different character traits which may make people predisposed to conditions such as eating disorders. Common causes of eating disorders include:
- Family history of eating disorders or mental illnesses such as depression
- Negative experiences, such as abuse or rape
- Tragic events, such as losing a loved one
- Low self-esteem
- Societal influences (this is especially relevant to young girls, who often read glossy magazines and watch lifestyle television programmes and are constantly exposed to airbrushed, perfect-looking, skinny models)
- Obsessive personality
- Pressure to look a certain way
People with eating disorders often feel a false sense of control because they are in charge of what foods they eat and subsequently how much they weigh. This control can be a source of comfort because the person may feel that they don’t have control in other areas of their life. Unfortunately, they don’t realise the potential damage they are doing to their psychological and physiological health.
A major cause of eating disorders today is a desire to look like other people; in many cases this may be models or celebrities and many people also want to look like their friends or family members. Unfortunately, models don’t represent the average male or female and are therefore portraying a somewhat unrealistic target for the majority of people. High street fashion also echoes catwalk couture, which means clothes are often designed to look better on thinner people; this can make people want to lose large amounts of weight as they try to keep up with the latest fashions.