Study reveals shock rise in the number of children with anorexia

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  • A new study has revealed that the number of children who have been diagnosed with the eating disorder anorexia has doubled in the past ten years.

    Published in the medical journal BMJ Open, the study looked at monthly records submitted by specialist psychiatrists to the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Surveillance System in the UK for eight months in 2015.

    Researchers found that in 2015 the rate of children aged between eight and 12 diagnosed between with anorexia came in at 3.2 per 100,000 children. This is compared to a rate of 2.1 per 100,000 children in 2006.

    Overall this represented a rise of 52 per cent over the decade.

    Further insights from the study revealed that incidence of anorexia among young men (per 100,000 young people) was highest at the age of 16 (5.14) and half that at age 17 (2.54). The highest incidence among young women was seen a year earlier than for boys, at the age of 15 (57.77), with similar rates at age 16 (56.95), dropping by more than half at age 17 (26.82).

    Concluding the researchers wrote that ‘while firm conclusions relating to changes in incidence rates over time for the entire sample cannot be drawn due to lack of existing secondary care evidence service providers and commissioners should consider evidence to suggest an increase in incidence in younger children’.

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    Commenting on the findings research, Beat – The UK’s Eating Disorder Charity – said, “We know from our own research and listening to the experiences of our supporters that it can often take a long while for early signs of an eating disorder to be spotted, for a referral to be made and for the treatment to begin.

    “Therefore, while this rise in the number of young children being diagnosed with anorexia could mean that the condition is developing at an earlier age than in the past, it could also be due to improvement in the ability of healthcare professionals to identify children with anorexia.

    “The real number of sufferers could be even higher across all age bands – the study was based on cases reported by psychiatrists, which not all treatment services in the UK and Ireland have. In addition, some young people may not be identified as having an eating disorder, so they may not receive a referral to a mental health service. The researchers also highlight that the focus of the study was on community-based cases, so this may have led to an under-reporting of cases first identified as an inpatient.”