A UK coroner says eating disorders are significantly under reported - how to get help

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 3:49 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th March 2021, 3:50 pm
A UK coroner says eating disorders are significantly under reported - how to get help (Photo: Shutterstock)
A UK coroner says eating disorders are significantly under reported - how to get help (Photo: Shutterstock)

Eating disorders are being significantly under reported, as is the extent to which eating disorders have caused or contributed to deaths, new findings have warned.

Assistant coroner for Cambridgeshire, Sean Horstead, said in a report that under reporting “gives rise to an objective risk that avoidable eating disorder deaths will continue in the future”.

Lack of training of doctors about eating disorders

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In the report, Mr Horstead (who has presided over separate inquests into the deaths of five women with anorexia) said there is a lack of training of doctors and other medical professionals about eating disorders.

The report was written after hearing the five inquests into the deaths of five women, including 19 year old university student, Averil Hart, whose death was concluded as avoidable and was contributed to by neglect.

Mr Horstead said: “I am concerned that there may also be a significant under-reporting of the extent to which eating disorders have caused or contributed to deaths, leading to cases either not being referred to the coroner or, if they are, the coroner in question determining that death was one of ‘natural causes’ with only the terminal cause of death, and not the underlying eating disorder cause or contribution to the death, being recorded.

“In my view, taken together, the absence of statistically robust data on the numbers of those suffering from eating disorders, and the potential under-estimation of those deaths to which eating disorders may have caused or contributed, gives rise to an objective risk that avoidable eating disorder deaths will continue in the future.”

The report has been sent to five parties, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and responses are requested by 28 April.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise how important it is that everyone gets the mental health support they need.”

The spokesperson added that a working group has been set up to address the recommendations of a Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman report, published in 2017, titled ‘Ignoring the alarms: How NHS eating disorder services are failing patients’.

Common signs of eating disorders

There is no simple way to spot someone who may be suffering from an eating disorder.

However, there are little things that could indicate whether the person is having an unhealthy relationship with food. These include:

  • An excessive interest in how much they weigh
  • Exercising too much
  • Someone who does not really know how they look - for example, thinking they are overweight when they are not
  • Obsessive behaviour
  • Feeling excessively tired or sluggish
  • Having regular stomach problems, including bloating swelling, and constipation

It is important to note that many of the signs that could indicate an eating disorder may actually be indicating something entirely different.

Generally speaking, common signs of eating disorders will be behavioural and attitude changes with weight loss, dieting and control of food.

There are three main conditions which cover a lot of eating disorder cases that people can spot. These are:

Anorexia nervosa

Often shortened to anorexia, this is when someone will avoid eating and lose a lot of weight very quickly.

Bulimia nervosa

Often shortened to bulimia, this is where someone will eat lots of food, then make themselves sick afterwards to empty what they have just eaten.

Binge eating disorder

This is when someone will be eating an unhealthy amount of food, and loses control of what they are eating, even if they are not hungry.

Where can young people or parents go for help

If you are worried or have concerns about a friend or family member you can speak to a couple of helplines in the UK.

Beat Eating Disorders offers a free helpline open 365 days a year. The organisation has an adult helpline, youthline and studentline.

The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) has information on its website about cognitive behavioural therapy and related treatments, including details of accredited therapists.

Childline also offers a support line on 0800 1111 for advice on the issue.