Save the Children

The number of under-nines needing hospital treatment for anorexia or bulimia has doubled in the past year, according to figure released yesterday by the NHS.

Nearly 100 children between the ages of five and seven have been treated for eating disorders in UK hospitals in the past three years. 99 eight and nine-year-olds were admitted during the period, along with almost 400 ten to 12-year-olds and 1,500 13 to 15-year-olds. According to Susan Ringwood from the charity Beat, this may be the tip of the iceberg;

” it probably doesn’t capture the whole picture here because we know that lots of people who have an eating disorder haven’t yet got the treatment that they might need… the picture of people affected could actually be larger than this.”

Of course whenever eating disorders are covered in the media there follows a brief but assured moment of punditry speculating about the causes.  The favourite baddies are cultural pressures on body image and skinny models.  Sure they play a part, but so do lots of other factors, many of which won’t sell newspapers.  Here’s a few;

wanting to be accepted

fear of growing up

feeling that emotions, especially negative ones, are unacceptable and dangerous

family dysfunction

sexual or emotional abuse

fear of sexuality

fear of intimacy


wanting to feel in control

a way of expressing emotions that don’t make sense

fear of failing

fear of succeeding

feeling responsible for others

numbing painful feelings

wanting to fit in

wanting to stand out

None of these neatly answer our questions about the current data.  But perhaps that’s partly the point.  Villifying one particular target might make us feel better, but I’m not so sure it helps those who are struggling.  When the media identify “body image” as the key problem they prove themselves much more shallow than the sufferers.

There is no easy solution, but part of it must be letting sufferers speak for themselves, instead of putting headlines in their mouths.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *