Suffolk & Essex: Alarming rise in eating disorders

THE number of children treated for eating disorders in Suffolk has increased by up to 20%, health bosses have revealed.

Clinical psychologists have also said that patients referred to them with anorexia and bulimia appear to be getting younger and displaying more severe symptoms.

The situation in Essex shows a 15% rise from last year.

Doctors, charities and relatives of those struck down by eating disorders have now urged parents to watch out for the tell-tale signs of the potentially deadly conditions.

Dr Vicky Moss, clinical lead in eating disorders for Suffolk’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) said she has noticed a definite spike in the number of 13 and 14-year-olds she has seen.

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“I think we have seen an increase in the number of cases and the severity of cases generally.

“There are more referred and more of those referrals are in a critical state. By that I mean they are children who lose weight very rapidly and children who have stopped eating altogether.

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“That can be really scary. Once a child has stopped eating it can be very hard to make them start.”

Dr Moss said the number of cases in Suffolk usually stands at about 60 a year, but is currently 10% or 20% higher.

“We get some 12-year-olds but lots of 13 and 14-year-olds – if you were drawing a graph that’s where the bulge starts.

“Anecdotally it feels like they’re getting younger and the cases more severe.”

She added that about 10% to 15% more boys are also being seen by the county’s mental health experts.

Dr Moss said it is important that parents act if they think their child could be suffering from an eating disorder.

“Parents often think it’s a phase but if child is routinely skipping meals and not making up for it later in the day or parents notice weight loss then I would suggest they do talk to the child about it and if worried take them to their GP and ask for support.”

The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in Colchester said it had seen a 15% rise in the number of young people requiring treatment for eating disorders this year compared to 2011.

The service’s Eating Disorder Team treats young patients from across the north of the county. It was set up in 2009 after clinicians began receiving more and more referrals for eating disorders.

Ian Lea, the team’s consultant family psychotherapist, said they had treated 90 children since October 2011, compared to 78 between October 2010 and 2011.

A spokeswoman for national eating disorder charity b-eat, said: “We are aware that more people from a younger age range are being treated in hospital for an eating disorder. However, we can’t say for sure that there is an increase in individuals developing the illness, it could be attributed to better diagnosis and more awareness.”

She added that eating disorders “rarely go away” by themselves and said it is essential that young people receive medical treatment.

Cathy Wallace, whose daughter Bethaney died after suffering with bulimia and anorexia for three years, said: “It is an illness anybody can get and it’s important that parents are vigilant. If they are worried, or spot a symptom, they should get help as soon as they can.”

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