Media & News Updates
Read the latest on eating disorders in the news and media below.
If you are a journalist and would like to talk to us about eating disorders, gather case studies or get a comment, go here.
Highest ever waiting times for NHS eating disorder treatment in England
Recent media reports have highlighted how, despite more children and young people being treated for an eating disorder in England since pre-pandemic times, the waiting times for that treatment has also increased to a level never seen before. Anorexia & Bulimia Care's CEO, Joanne Byrne, comments:
"It’s alarming, but sadly not surprising, to see the marked increase in children and young people waiting for urgent and routine treatment for eating disorders.
The pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the situation, with eating disorders thriving in isolation for those at risk, and more children becoming seriously unwell. However, before the impact of Covid-19 on health services, National Health Service England (NHSE) was a considerable way off meeting the access and waiting time targets for young people by the end of 2020/21.
It’s important to also note that these figures only capture children and young people whose referrals were accepted. We know there are many more struggling, unable to access specialist services due to falling outside the threshold or because of inequalities of provision across the country. The Government has committed to an additional £79m funding for children’s mental health services, but it’s unclear how and when this will reach the frontline. However, we welcome the focus on the impact on children and young people’s eating disorder services and add our voice to the call for urgent action.
We must also acknowledge that while the NHSE 2019 Health Survey found that 16% of adults screened positive for a possible eating disorder – an increase of 266% over the last 12 years – there are still no targets for adults waiting times and data is not collected for over 18s awaiting treatment. This lack of parity means it is therefore impossible to demonstrate the true extent of this crisis.
We do not yet have equivalent information for the other home countries, but clearly, the pandemic’s effects are far-reaching and we anticipate additional worrying data.
For so many children, young people, adults, and their families and loved ones, the Government must urgently put policies, funding, and impact measurement in place. The crisis will not just go away on its own and we think it's fair to say that those in the eating disorder community need and deserve better.
We're here to support you
We are here to support you and your loved ones. We offer emotional support and practical help to identify an eating disorder and navigate diagnosis. We also provide practical support to move towards and through recovery.
You can find details of our support services here.
Resumption of the National Child Measurement Programme
June 2021 - As part of their obesity strategy, the Government has recently confirmed plans to resume the annual measurement of the height and weight of children in primary schools in England aged 4-5 and then again at 10-11 years. Although parents will have the option to withdraw their child from the scheme, all state-maintained primary schools are expected to implement it.
The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) was first introduced in 2006 but halted last March due to the impact of the pandemic. The Government quotes evidence that, in average terms, obesity doubles from 10 to 20% of children between Reception and Year 6, and that more than a fifth of Reception aged children and a third of Year 6 children are classed as either overweight or very overweight.
Citing the additional impact of lockdowns on children’s overall health and weight, the Government plans to resume the scheme this year.
“It is important that the NCMP recommences in 2021 because it will provide population-level data to help understand how COVID-19 has impacted child obesity prevalence and inequalities.”
Source: National Child Measurement Programme 2020 Information for Schools
This latest announcement comes hot on the heels of legislative plans to enforce calorie labelling on out of home food menus. You can read our viewpoint on that here. We have spent some time looking into the documentation on both issues and whilst we very much recognise the importance of reducing obesity levels at all ages, we do not believe the current approach is either working or appropriate.
Will measuring a child’s weight reduce obesity anyway?
Many studies have shown over the years that measuring the weight of children at school age has little significant effect on reducing obesity. In fact, data here from NHS Digital continues to show an upward trend despite the implementation of NCMP before 2020. In addition, the failure of previous Government campaigns to reduce obesity over the past 30 years was highlighted by researchers at the University of Cambridge early in 2021 when they concluded that most of the campaigns had not been implemented properly and that there had been a general lack of understanding or learning from successes or failures.
More worrying however is the lack of consideration of the impact of the NCMP on children with body image concerns and its potential for the subsequent development of an eating disorder. Increasingly, eating disorder treatment services are seeing children as young as 11 years of age anyway and although we know the causes of an eating disorder are far more complex and varied than just measuring someone’s weight, the process certainly raises serious concerns about how it may start to build the foundation of an eating disorder later in life.
Select Committee inquiry findings
In fact, the House Of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee was so concerned about the impact of the NCMP on those with body image concerns and mental health conditions, that they commissioned a survey in April 2020 and subsequently issued the report ‘Changing the perfect picture: an inquiry into body image’. Consisting of 11 serving MPs, the Committee considered a wide area of related issues including the possible impact of the NCMP programme, body image and its presentation in social media and advertising, the introduction of calorie labelling on out of home food menus, and the appropriateness of the wider obesity strategy.
The report considers many of these issues in-depth and whilst we would encourage you to read its conclusions in full, we have picked out some of the most relevant points.
Firstly, the Committee’s survey revealed 61% of adults and 66% of children feel negative or very negatively towards their body image most of the time, with women, people with disabilities and transgender people affected to a greater degree than anyone else.
In more general terms, the Committee described its alarm at the rising rates of eating disorders and described the impact of the pandemic as ‘devastating’. It calls for a wider Government review that looks at the reasons for the increase in eating disorders and recommends that funding for eating disorders must be related to the prevalence and seriousness of the illness. Despite eating disorders carrying the highest mortality rate of all mental health conditions, current Government funding of research into their causes and prevalence is equal to just 96p per person affected each year. This is versus the £9 of funding per person affected each year by other mental health problems.
On the issue of BMI in determining the presence of an eating disorder, the report states:
“We have been hugely saddened to hear of the number of people who have faced appearance and weight-based discrimination when accessing NHS services. The use of BMI inspires weight stigma, contributes to eating disorders, and disrupts people’s body image and mental health. Public Health England should stop using BMI as a measure of individual health, and instead focus on a ‘Health at Every Size’ approach.”
Concerning the Government’s obesity strategy, the Committee argues:
“The Government’s latest Obesity Strategy is at best ineffective and at worst perpetuating unhealthy behaviours. We are disappointed to learn that there have been no reviews of the effectiveness of the current or previous obesity strategies. The Government must only use evidence-based policies in its Obesity Strategy and should urgently review it to determine the evidence base for its policies. We cannot support much-criticised and unevaluated weight-loss policies. In advance of a broad review, the Government should immediately scrap its plans for calorie labels in restaurants, cafes, and takeaways, as these could negatively affect those with, or at risk of developing, eating disorders.”
And in summing up their findings on the impact of the NCMP, Committee members concluded:
“Encouraging positive body image during childhood and adolescence must be a priority. We commend the Government for introducing body image into the RSHE curriculum last year and hope this creates an opportunity for schools to address the concerns young people have about their body image. However, weighing children in primary schools under the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) is likely to cause harm to children’s mental health and could hinder the development of a positive body image. This is particularly damaging for Black children who are more likely to be incorrectly placed in the overweight or obese categories. We recommend that the Government urgently reviews the NCMP to assess the need for the programme and seek other ways to collect this data. The Department for Education should explore other policy initiatives to encourage schools to take a ‘whole school approach’ to encouraging positive body image.”
In a worrying admission, the report explains that in discussion with the Minister for State, Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, Nadine Dorries MP, it was confirmed to the Committee that there had been no review or assessment of the impact of the NCMP on children’s mental health. This feels even more shocking given the increasing rate of mental ill-health across the UK over the past decade or more and the fact that the NCMP has existed in some form since 2006 – plenty of time, need and insight available to assess its impact.
The report adds:
“Minister Dorries acknowledged that shaming people into losing weight or eating a healthy diet is unlikely to be effective and medical professionals do not receive enough training on promoting positive body image."
The need for a holistic approach
Summarising our overall concerns about the NCMP and its potential for contributing to the rise in eating disorders amongst children, ABC's CEO, Joanne Byrne, comments:
"We are very concerned that the Government is pushing forward with this initiative, despite evidence showing that it has little effect on reducing obesity in children.
Lockdowns, restrictions, isolation and extensive change have had a significant impact on the mental health of children and young people, fuelling a rise in cases of eating disorders. Weight and BMI alone are not a measure of whole-body health. Measuring children in this way can make some feel conscious and insecure about their bodies and has the potential to trigger an eating disorder.
After such a prolonged period of disruption, uncertainty and anxiety, the focus should be on a holistic approach to health, nutrition, activity; and importantly supporting the mental health of children and young people, helping them to develop coping skills, positive body image and build self-esteem. To support this approach, we offer a free educational resource for schools aimed at supporting teaching and learning at Key Stage 3 (11-14 years old). Developed in collaboration with researchers at the University of Bath, the Body Positive Schools downloadable resource is designed for flexible teaching and explores a wide variety of young people’s body-themed topics through classroom activities, videos, group project ideas and whole-school approaches to promoting a body-positive culture."
Whilst the Select Committee report does not make for reassuring reading, we are pleased that the Committee has closely considered the factors at play and recognises the seriousness of eating disorders, the importance of educating children about positive body image, and the challenges associated with the NCMP programme.
We will be contacting the Minister for State, and her colleagues on the Select Committee, to ensure the voices of those living with an eating disorder right now can be heard in the hope of driving policy changes that may help protect the youngest in our society from experiencing the same devastating illnesses.
Finally, we urge all parents to remember that you are the expert on your child and that you can withdraw them from the scheme if you choose to. Your local authority will contact you by letter before the measurement takes place and you can withdraw your child simply by replying to that effect in writing.
If you’d like to tell us your own views on the NCMP, we’d love to receive them. We will add your testimonies, anonymously, to the information we send to the Minister for State. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Child Measurement Programme, NHS Digital
Changing the Perfect Picture: An Inquiry into Body Image, Sixth Report of Session 2019–21
March 2021, House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee
National Child Measurement Programme 2020 Information for Schools
National Child Measurement Programme, England 2019/20 School Year
Official statistics, National statistics
NCMP Pre-measurement Leaflet for Parents
Mandatory Calorie Labelling
May 2021 - Following the Government's announcement of plans to introduce mandatory calorie labelling on food menus and signage in the out-of-home sector (restaurants, pubs and food establishments with employees of 250 or more), we have reviewed the public consultation report from the Department of Health & Social Care. Of particular interest is the research evidence relied upon to determine the likely impact on those with eating disorders. Click below for our summary and viewpoint, plus a link to a short survey to tell us how you feel it will impact you.
Read Mandatory Calorie Labelling - Viewpoint
Documentary - Freddie Flintoff: Living with Bulimia, BBC One
September 2020 - In an emotional and moving documentary for BBC One, former international cricketer, Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff shares his experience of living with bulimia for over 20 years. Freddie talks to men affected by bulimia, their families, and treatment specialists across the country. He uncovers some difficult facts and truths but never shies away from being incredibly honest about his own struggles. We are grateful to Freddie and all those featured in the programme for their courage and determination to share their stories and raise awareness.
We advise caution when viewing the documentary for anyone currently unwell with an eating disorder due to the open discussion of specific eating disorder behaviours that may be triggering for some.
Although not shown in the main programme, here's an additional scene shot during the documentary's filming. Freddie meets Daniel Magson, our Chair, to discuss their experiences of bulimia, and how Daniel sought help to recover.
Media and journalist enquiries
We are passionate about raising awareness of eating disorders and highlighting the complexities of these multi-faceted illnesses. For this reason, we actively work with the media to create journalism that accurately and responsibly reports on the subject of eating disorders and their impact.
How to get in contact with ABC regarding a media enquiry
Please contact us to discuss your requirements - email@example.com.
We will try to respond within 24 hours, but please be aware due to the nature of our work, this isn’t always possible.
A Note on Case Studies
Due to the very sensitive nature of our work, we have a duty of care towards those affected by an eating disorder and who may agree to be featured as a case study or interviewee in the media. Some questions to bear in mind when approaching us about a potential case study include:
Do you need someone who can be identified by their real name, or can they remain anonymous?
Is a photo of the person necessary?
Are you looking for a person with a specific experience, including the type of eating disorder, gender, actively struggling or in recovery, or a sibling or parent perspective?
Are you looking to contact the person directly or are you willing to go through ABC?
For more information on reporting on eating disorders, download our Media Factsheet