One in six adults in England has a possible eating disorder

One in six adults in England has a possible eating disorder – including almost a third of women aged 16 to 24, study finds

  • Health Survey for England asked more than 8,200 adults about eating issues 
  • This was the first time eating issues had been included in the NHS survey
  • The study found 16 per cent of adults had a possible eating disorder 

A fifth of women living in England have an eating disorder, including 28 per cent of those aged 16 to 24, the findings of a national NHS health survey revealed. 

The annual Health Survey for England asked more than 8,200 adults for the first time about eating and thought patterns which may indicate an eating disorder.

The study found that 16 per cent of adults in 2019 have a possible eating disorder, including four per cent who said their feelings about food interfered with their ability to work, meet personal responsibilities or enjoy a social life.

Among women, those under 35 were most likely to have a possible eating disorder, with the chance  dropping off in line with age and lowest among the over 75s. 

Among men, those aged 25-34 were the most likely to suffer, with 19 per cent reporting issues, before also declining with age to 6 per cent of those 75 and over.

The annual Health Survey for England asked more than 8,200 adults for the first time about eating and thought patterns which may indicate an eating disorder 

Several factors made people more likely to say they had issues with food, including deprivation, being obese or overweight, smoking or mental health problems. 

Compared to a previous study from 2007, the number of people with possible eating disorders has doubled – that survey found six per cent of adults had a disorder.

The Health Survey for England report said the overall increase between the two studies reflects other recent increases in the number of people suffering poor mental health and could be linked to rising obesity levels.

Eating disorders are characterised by eating too much or too little, being obsessed with weight or body shape, changes in mood, excessive exercise, having strict habits or routines around food or deliberate vomiting after eating.

The most common disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder.

For the Health Survey for England, people were asked five questions on a range of topics related to eating disorders to determine whether they have one or are at risk.

These included whether they lost more than a stone in three months, or made themselves sick because they felt uncomfortably full.

Other questions included whether they lost control over how much they eat or whether they thought they were fat even when others said they were too thin. 

Answering yes to two or more questions was regarded as a possible eating disorder that warrants further investigation, according to NHS Digital.

The survey found that similar proportions of adults who were underweight, normal weight, or overweight, screened positive for a possible eating disorder.

But disorders were much more common in fatter people, rising to 23 per cent among obese adults and 42 per cent among those who were morbidly obese.

Among women, those under 35 were most likely to have a possible eating disorder, with the chance dropping off in line with age and lowest among the over 75s

Adults with a possible eating disorder were three times more likely to have seen a GP for both mental and physical problems – 18 per cent compared with six per cent of those without a disorder.

They were also more likely to have sought help for mental health issues alone – six per cent compared with three per cent for those without an eating disorder.

WHAT IS TYPE 2 DIABETES?

Type 2 diabetes is a condition which causes a person’s blood sugar to get too high.

More than 4million people in the UK are thought to have some form of diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight and you may be more likely to get it if it’s in the family.

The condition means the body does not react properly to insulin – the hormone which controls absorption of sugar into the blood – and cannot properly regulate sugar glucose levels in the blood.

Excess fat in the liver increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as the buildup makes it harder to control glucose levels, and also makes the body more resistant to insulin. 

Weight loss is the key to reducing liver fat and getting symptoms under control.

Symptoms include tiredness, feeling thirsty, and frequent urination.

It can lead to more serious problems with nerves, vision and the heart.

Treatment usually involves changing your diet and lifestyle, but more serious cases may require medication.

Source: NHS Choices; Diabetes.co.uk

Anne Conolly, research director for NatCen Social Research and one of the co-authors of the report, said the increasing in eating disorders could be due to a rise in obesity over the past 12 years and an increase in disordered eating. 

‘I think there could be something to do with unrealistic body expectation and social media but we certainly don’t have the data from the Health Survey to support that.’

The report also found that the proportion of adults with diagnosed diabetes trebled between 1994 and 2019.

Diabetes is heavily linked to obesity and, since 1994, the percentage of people diagnosed with diabetes has risen from three per cent to nine per cent among men and from two per cent to six per cent among women.

When looking at both diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes, nine per cent of overweight adults now have diabetes, rising to 15 per cent of those who are obese.

Some 39 per cent of women in the most deprived areas are obese, compared with 22 per cent in the least deprived areas, the research also found.

When looking at trends over time, the study said obesity has increased from 13 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women in 1993, to 27 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women in 2019.

The majority of this increase occurred between 1993 and 2001, and has been gradual since then.

Meanwhile, 14 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women in England also have untreated high blood pressure, the report found, with the highest proportions in the North West and North East.

The report also looked at people’s caring responsibilities, finding that 17 per cent of adults provide unpaid help or support to at least one person.

More than half (55 per cent) said they have received no support in providing care, and 19 per cent suffer financial difficulties due to their caring responsibilities.

The full findings have been published in the NHS Digital Health Survey for England. 

OBESITY: ADULTS WITH A BMI OVER 30 ARE SEEN AS OBESE

Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI of 30 or over.

A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9. 

Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.

Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age. 

For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means that 40 per cent of three-month-olds weigh the same or less than that baby.

Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese. 

The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7 billion budget, every year.

This is due to obesity increasing a person’s risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.

Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even limb amputations.

Research suggests that at least one in six hospital beds in the UK are taken up by a diabetes patient.

Obesity also raises the risk of heart disease, which kills 315,000 people every year in the UK – making it the number one cause of death.

Carrying dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers. 

This includes breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.

Among children, research suggests that 70 per cent of obese youngsters have high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, which puts them at risk of heart disease.

Obese children are also significantly more likely to become obese adults. 

And if children are overweight, their obesity in adulthood is often more severe.  

As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.  

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