Hospital admissions for children with severe eating disorders hit a record high in the pandemic, official figures have shown.
Cross-party MPs and charities said lockdowns and school closures have taken their toll, while social media companies were urged to introduce clear labelling on images that have been doctored, amid concerns such photos are fuelling a body image crisis among young people.
New NHS England data has shown there were 2,682 admissions of children aged 17 and under with a primary diagnosis of eating disorders in April 2020 to March 2021 – up by 34 per cent on the previous year. Of these, 2,458 admissions were female patients, up from 1,807 in 2019-20.
Cross-party MPs and charities said lockdowns and school closures have taken their toll
Tory MP Dr Luke Evans, who sits on the Commons health select committee, said: ‘It’s a worrying trend that has been getting worse over the last decade, but lockdown has accelerated it'
In addition, the NHS said it is also treating more children and young people in the community for body image issues than ever before, following a ‘surge in demand’.
Tory MP Dr Luke Evans, who sits on the Commons health select committee, said: ‘It’s a worrying trend that has been getting worse over the last decade, but lockdown has accelerated it.
‘With eating disorders, it tends to be all about control. And one of the biggest things in lockdown is taking away that control.’
He added: ‘The evidence seems to back up that people spend more time on social media [in lockdown], looking at physiques they’re never going to be able to achieve. The MP has put forward a private member’s bill to require social media companies and advertisers to clearly label images that have been digitally altered.
Dr Evans said the measures are aimed to also tackle influencers who make their ‘biceps bigger, or waist smaller or breasts larger’ adding: ‘We’re creating a narrative in society of something no one can ever achieve.’
Peter Kyle, the Shadow Schools Minister, said: ‘The absence of school during lockdown has meant the effects on young people’s health, wellbeing and safety went unchecked – even caring parents are often untrained to observe the sometimes subtle signs of disorder in young people.’
A spokesman for Beat, the eating disorder charity, said: ‘These statistics are very worrying as they show that demand for children and young people’s eating disorder services has increased dramatically during the pandemic.
Dr Evans said the measures are aimed to also tackle influencers who make their ‘biceps bigger, or waist smaller or breasts larger’
‘It is essential that children and young people’s eating disorder services get the funding and workforce they need.’ Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s Mental Health Director, said: ‘The last year has taken its toll on the country’s mental health, particularly on our young people.’
Children’s Minister Vicky Ford, who has spoken of her own battle with anorexia in her teens, said: ‘We want all children and young people to be able to access support and specialist care, including those struggling with an eating disorder – I know myself how life-changing this support can be.’
She said the Government’s NHS Long Term Plan will invest an extra £53 million a year for children and young people’s community eating disorder services.