THE national children’s charity Spurgeons has released animated resources to help support the growing numbers of children who have eating disorders.
The online “family toolkit”, it says, comes in response to the huge rise in the condition among children and young people.
In hospitals in England, there has been an 82-per-cent rise in admissions for eating disorders among children and young people over the past two years, NHS data show. There were 7719 admissions in 2021/22 among under-18s — up from 6079 the previous year — and 4232 in 2019/20.
Research for the London Centre for Eating Disorders and Body Image shows that almost 10,000 children and young people started NHS eating-disorder treatment between April and December 2021: an increase of one quarter on the same period the previous year, and up by almost two-thirds since before the pandemic. It also shows that the numbers of boys and young men being admitted with eating disorders has risen sharply.
Spurgeons hopes to dispel misconceptions around eating disorders, and to explain how to treat and prevent them. The new family toolkit seeks to educate parents, carers, and professionals on how to support children and young people facing the conditions. The short animations deal with subjects such as an individual’s relationship with food, and explains specific conditions like bulimia and binge eating.
The charity’s chief executive, Ian Soars, said: “The earlier an eating disorder is identified, the better the chances are of recovery, and that’s why it’s vital that those who have a responsibility of care for young people aren’t hindered by myths around the disorders and are equipped to spot the signs in all genders.
“We see this package of animations as a gift to those who seek to support children and young people as they wait for specialist treatment and begin their journey towards recovery.”
Counsellors for the charity are also concerned about the unknown cases of eating disorders among boys. Research into the subject suggests that one quarter of people with eating disorders in the UK are male.
Debbie Pattison, a senior counsellor and digital-counselling-service lead for Spurgeons, said that boys with eating disorders were affected by the stigma that surrounded male mental health and by harmful stereotypes of masculinity. “I believe this is a barrier to them being identified and seeking help,” she said. “I think males still face the ‘Boys don’t cry’ mentality, and the assumption remains in society today that boys don’t care how they look, have issues with their weight, or have feelings and emotions.”
Some parents blamed themselves when they discovered that their child had an eating disorder, Ms Pattison said, but there were simple pieces of advice that could help them to support their children.
One parent said that, at first, she had taken the wrong approach with her daughter, when she realised that she was not eating. “I desperately tried to feed her, which is only a mother’s instinct, I expect. I was getting cross and saying, ‘You’ve got to eat.’
“I didn’t really understand about anorexia. I didn’t really understand about mental health. I was so in the dark, just realising I’d got a problem and I didn’t really know what to do about it. It was only when I started consulting people, and talking to other people, that I began to piece it together and know how to deal with it better.”
The family toolkit webpage was launched on 28 February, during Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It includes guidelines and ways to find support. The animations are also accessible, free of charge.