New guidelines aim to combat alarming rise in eating disorders post COVID-19

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Share on PinterestNew guidelines in the U.K. will hopefully help avoid hospitalizations for eating disorders. JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

According to estimates from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), more than 700,000 people in the United Kingdom have an eating disorder (ED). Many people with EDs do not present to healthcare services, so NICE states that this is almost certainly an underestimate.

In the United States, Mental Health America reports that 20 million women and 10 million men will experience a clinically significant ED at some time in their life.

Worldwide, according to a wide-ranging reviewTrusted Source, 8.4% of women and 2.2% of men will have an ED during their lifetime.New analysis from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) has highlighted an alarming rise in hospital admissions for eating disorders in the U.K., with an increase of 84% over the past 5 years.

The greatest rise was in girls and young women under the age of 18. Fewer boys and young men are hospitalized with eating disorders, but their numbers have more than doubled in 5 years.

“Males represent 25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa, and they can be at a higher risk of dying, in part because they are often diagnosed later since many people assume males don’t have eating disorders.”

– Dr. Mary Tantillo, professor of clinical nursing, University of Rochester, MA, and director of the Western New York Comprehensive Care Center for Eating DisordersThis rise in EDs and hospitalizations is not confined to the U.K. A reviewTrusted Source of studies between 2000 and 2018 found that, globally, the number of diagnoses had more than doubled in that period. And a studyTrusted Source of 3.25 million people in the U.S. found a 100% increase in inpatient treatment for EDs between January 2018 and December 2020.

The RCPsych highlights the importance of early diagnosis and intervention to prevent hospitalizations. People with EDs often appear healthy with normal blood tests, so signs that an ED has become potentially life threatening are often missed in primary care and emergency settings.

To help healthcare professionals spot the signs that an ED is causing severe health problems, the RCPsych has published new Medical Emergencies in Eating Disorders Guidelines (MEED).

Dr. Dasha Nicholls, a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, who chaired the development of the guidelines, said:“Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating don’t discriminate and can affect people of any age and gender.

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