The number of children and young people admitted to hospital for eating disorders has risen by 8% in the last year, according to NHS Digital data for England.
The figures for 2018/19 – described by experts as “worrying” – show a 37% rise in hospital admissions in the last two years, with 4,471 people aged 18 and under seen by medics – compared with 4,158 the year before.
More than half of the recent admissions (2,403) were for anorexia, up 12% from 2,147 the previous year, with 10 cases involving boys – and six among girls aged nine and under.
Emma Thomas, chief executive of the charity Young Minds, said: “While there have been some improvements in community care for young people with eating disorders in recent years, it can still be difficult for children and young people to get the help they need before they reach crisis point.”
She continued: “Getting early support can prevent problems from escalating, meaning young people are more likely to fully recover.
“The government must make prevention and early intervention a priority for every child struggling with their mental health, to ensure that they get help as soon as they need it.”
Experts claim celebrity diets and social media are contributing to a rise in the figures.
Dr Agnes Ayton, chairwoman of the faculty of eating disorders psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the Daily Mail that young people were “influenced by celebrities promoting diets on social media, as these people can be role models”.
She added: “For young people who are showing early signs of eating disorders, their families will tell them they are putting themselves at risk, but they can find social media groups of people who encourage this type of behaviour”.
There were 19,040 admissions among all age groups in 2018/19 – compared with 16,558 the previous year – and 13,885 in 2016/17.
There were a further 186 admissions for anorexia in girls aged 10 to 12 – and 27 for boys aged 10 to 12.
The most common age to be taken to hospital with the mental health condition was 13 to 15, with 1,056 admissions among girls in this age group (up from 939 the year before), and a further 53 cases in boys.
Some 1,032 admissions were for girls aged 16 to 18 (up from 909 the year before), while 33 were for boys aged 16 to 18.
When looking at older ages, women aged 19 and over accounted for 5,274 admissions for anorexia and 3,542 for bulimia – while men accounted for 327 admissions for anorexia and 381 for bulimia.
Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for the NHS, said that waiting times for eating disorder services were “better than ever” – with “nearly 100 new or improved services in the community set up in recent years backed by millions in extra funding”.
She said: “It’s clear that while the NHS is ramping up services through our Long Term Plan, the dangerous drivers of mental ill health need to be cracked down on by the rest of society”.
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