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How much do young people know about eating disorders?

As part of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, we look at the work one local Healthwatch has done to understand how much young people know about the issue.

According to one estimate, at least 725,000 people are affected by eating disorders in the UK, and many of these develop during adolescence.

In Northamptonshire, the local Healthwatch decided to find out how much young people understood about anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders, how to spot the signs and where they could turn to for help. 

As part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016, Healthwatch Northamptonshire launched a survey and over 2,000 people aged between 9 and 23 years shared how much they know about eating disorders.

What did young people say about eating disorders?

  • 78% said they know what an eating disorder is, with anorexia being the most well-known.
  • Nearly one third (31%) of the young people said they know someone with an eating disorder, while 7% thought they had an eating disorder.
  • 53% didn’t know where to access help with the condition, with young males less likely than females to know about local services.
  • Most people would speak to their doctor, family or friends if they needed help and 39% had not heard of any local support services for young people 

How can more be done to raise awareness of the issue?

Although most young people that were surveyed know what an eating disorder is, over half didn't know where to turn to for help. Many young people in Northampton thought there needed to be more information available about eating disorders and advice on where to get support. They felt that changing the way that eating disorders are discussed, for example by having more talks at school, would help eliminate stigma and stop people having to cope by themselves. 

“I think eating disorders should be talked about more in school and information should be available from GPs. It’s often brushed off, especially if the person is not extremely underweight.” 

Using the views that young people shared, Healthwatch Northamptonshire has called for services to involve more young people when producing resources on eating disorders, and for schools to provide more information, particularly for children under 12. 

Find out more about Healthwatch Northamptonshire’s work on eating disorders. 

Related items

Do you know the signs of an eating disorder?

As part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we are promoting Beat’s six top tips for identifying if somebody has an eating disorder, so they can get the support they need. 

  • Are they obsessive about food?
  • Is there a change in their behaviour?
  • Do they have distorted beliefs about their body?
  • Are they tired or struggling to concentrate?
  • Do they disappear to the toilet after meals?
  • Do they exercise excessively? 

If you think you have an eating disorder or you are worried that someone you know might have one, there are people you can speak to who can help. Contact NHS Choices or Beat for more information. 

Do you have an experience to share?

If you would like to share your experiences of eating disorders to help make services better in your area, get in touch with your local Healthwatch. 

Find your local Healthwatch