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Number of people in UK diagnosed with eating disorders is increasing

The number of people diagnosed with eating disorders has increased by 15 per cent since 2000, according to a new study by King’s College London and the UCL Institute of Child Health. The increase was more pronounced in males with incidences rising 27 per cent.

The research looked at incidence of eating disorders in primary care in the UK over a ten-year period (2000-2009) and found that the largest increase was in eating disorders which meet most, but not, all of the criteria associated with anorexia or bulimia.

The study, published today in BMJ Open, showed a 60 per cent increase in females with these types of eating disorders, known as Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), and a 24 per cent increase in males. Rates of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa remained stable.

Professor Janet Treasure, co-author of the study from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, said: “Whilst the levels of anorexia nervosa have remained steady over the past decade, we have seen an increase in binge eating disorder and other conditions that do not meet the standard criteria for anorexia or bulimia. What remains to be seen is whether this reflects a true increase in the number of cases, or a greater awareness of eating disorders amongst health practitioners. Our findings have important implications for public health, healthcare provision and understanding the development of eating disorders.”

Dr Nadia Micali, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at the UCL Institute for Child Health and lead author, said: “There is a clear increase in men and women being diagnosed with eating disorders. Mostly we see new diagnoses of the EDNOS category, reflecting people who have an illness as severe as anorexia or bulimia, but who don’t have symptoms as frequently as the official threshold. For example they may use strategies for weight loss-such as fasting or self-induced vomiting less than twice a week.

“It should be stressed these people, who are understudied, are extremely ill. In fact changes in the classification criteria being unveiled this week in the US mean that what we are currently calling EDNOS will now be diagnosed as full cases of anorexia or bulimia.”

The researchers analysed information from 400 general practices representing approximately 5% of the general UK population, and identified 9,072 patients with a first-time diagnosis of an eating disorder. It revealed that in 2000 there were 32.3 new cases of eating disorder per 100,000 population aged between 10-49 years, which rose to 37.2 cases by 2009.

Incidences of eating disorders were seen to vary by sex and age with adolescent girls aged 15-19 years having the highest incidence of eating disorders (2 per 1,000).

Dr Micali added: “Our findings highlight that about 4,610 girls aged 15-19 and 336 boys aged 15-19 develop a new eating disorder in the UK every year.”

There was a much higher overall rate of eating disorders among females of 62.6 per 100,000 in 2009 compared with a male rate of 7.1 per 100,000. The peak age of diagnosis for girls with all eating disorders was 15-19 years. However, the peak age for diagnosis for males varied depending on the type of eating disorder: 15-19 years for anorexia; 20-29 years for bulimia; and 10-14 for EDNOS.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

Paper reference: Micali, N. et al “The incidence of eating disorders in the UK in 200-2009: findings from the General Practice Research Database” BMJ Open doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002646

For further information, please contact Seil Collins, Press Officer, King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry. Tel: (+44) 0207 848 5377