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The rise in eating disorders and the role of social media

4 min read
AUTHOR: Ross Carver-Carter
A cardboard cutout of a head with muddled string in the brain and a smily/frowning face. Placed against a yellow background.

There are many different types of eating disorders, but all are defined by unhealthy thoughts and behaviours around food. For some, this may involve a fixation on “healthy” or “clean” eating, whilst others may eat too much or too little in a bid to alleviate uncomfortable emotions.

Eating disorders are serious medical conditions that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t always see an eating disorder.

According to BEAT, the UK’s leading charity for eating disorders, approximately 1.25 million people in the UK are living with some form of eating disorder. And whilst it’s traditionally been thought of as an issue confined to girls, around 25% of those affected are males.

The number of cases continue to rise in both male and female populations, triggering concerns and putting pressure on mental health services. In the following episodes, we investigate the worrying upwards trend of eating disorders and explore the role of social media in their growing prevalence.

Why are eating disorders still rising in girls?

Young woman without mouth sitting at the table

In the last year, there has been a 35% increase in hospital admissions for eating disorders, with girls aged 17-to-19 experiencing higher rates than any other demographic. Historically, this demographic has also been the most at risk for eating disorders and unhealthy behaviours around food, but why?

Joining us to investigate is Fiona Hamlin, a Registered Dietitian with more than 8 years of clinical experience working within the NHS. During that time, Hamlin has worked extensively amongst patients with disordered eating behaviours of all types. We also welcome Cliona Brennan from The London Centre for Eating Disorders and Body Image. Brennan has more than five years of specialist experience within the field of eating disorders and has worked with children and adults both in the NHS and privately.

We need to talk about eating disorders in men and boys

Papercut man holding head on isolated red color background. Paper cut illustration for psychology concept or headache pain. Sad person with depression, disappointed, stressed character.

In England, the National Health Service says hospital admissions for eating disorders have risen by more than 80 per cent in the last five years. The increase is particularly stark among boys and young men, with a 128 per cent rise in that time.

Various studies show that males account for anywhere between one in four and one in three people with an eating disorder, yet they continue to be thought of as a female issue by much of the public. This increases the risk of misdiagnoses in young males suffering from eating disorders and can hinder them from seeking help.

In this episode of the Food Matters Live podcast, we shed light on the growing rates of eating disorder cases in males. Following on from this, we investigate what role, if any, the food and supplements industries have to play and ask how we can stop the numbers climbing.

Joining us for this long overdue discussion is Tom Quinn, Director of External Affairs at BEAT and Deanne Jade, Founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders.

How influential is the influencer? Nutrition and diet in the social media age

A group of individuals holding smart phones showing likes, comments and other social reactions

We live in a digital age, one where social media plays an intimate role in our daily lives. Online, we are bombarded by images of food, messages about nutrition and pictures of other people’s bodies (often edited and doctored).

So what does all of this add up to when it comes to our diet and nutrition? Has social media made us less healthy, more at risk of eating problems, or more aware of healthy choices? All important and nuanced questions. Joining us to tackle them is Suzanne Higgs, Professor in the Psychobiology of Appetite at the University of Birmingham and Suzanna Forwood, Associate Professor of Psychology & Sports Science at Anglia Ruskin University.

Explore research developments, market trends and ingredient innovation at Inspiring Nutrition, an event series from Food Matters Live 

Attendance at Inspiring Nutrition gives you access to the brightest minds and biggest ideas shaping nutrition today. Featuring expert panel discussions, roundtable talks and 1-2-1 networking sessions, you don’t want to miss the industry’s premier nutrition event. Taking place in both London and Manchester this November, make sure to secure your place soon and join the discussion.