THE pandemic has seen a significant rise in levels of mental ill health, both those with pre-existing conditions reporting a worsening of their symptoms, as well as new presentations, partly due to the uncertainty of the situation in which we find ourselves, as well as the restrictions that have been applied to our daily lives.

This is even more apparent for those with an eating disorder. Since October 2019, the number of children in England under 19 awaiting treatment for a suspected eating disorder has quadrupled, the figure presently standing at just over 2000.

In the same period, the number of under 19s presenting to Accident & Emergency Departments primarily for an eating disorder has doubled from 107 cases in October 2019, to 214 in October 2021.

It has been postulated that this may be in part due to the effect of Covid-19 on our usual routines, with some feeling the only way they can exert any control over their personal environment being through their eating patterns.

Indeed, the releasing of restrictions as of recent may be another catalyst for a further increase in eating disorders, due to more great change at the end of a long period of constraints.

Eating disorders do not just involve restrictive patterns of eating, bingeing or purging. They also include the abuse of laxatives or medications which may speed up the metabolic rate.

In addition, over exercising in the hope of achieving the perceived ideal is a strong component and it may be that the fear of being unable to exercise due to gym closures in the first lockdown was also a considerable factor for some.

Eating disorders are not new. They have been described in medical literature since the 1950s. Yet perhaps they only achieved true prominence with the tragic death of American singer and drummer Karen Carpenter, who sadly succumbed to anorexia nervosa in 1983 at the tender age of 32.

By definition an eating disorder is something which the individual cannot control, which may begin with a pattern of mildly disordered eating, itself not a diagnosable condition, this progressing to a fully fledged illness. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OFSED). There may be overlap, with sufferers exhibiting symptoms of more than one condition.

A major issue is that eating disorders may develop insidiously with neither the person, nor those around them recognising the symptoms until they are in the grip of the condition.

One common myth is that someone with an eating disorder will definitely look unwell. This is often not the case. Those with eating disorders also take great pains to hide their illness, with associated stigma still at a high level.

There is an argument that conditions such as eating disorders, and also over exercising, are routed in some form of trauma, be that physical or psychological. However, the development of an eating disorder may be due to several factors.

There may be a biological and even genetic component, with some presentations running in families. Psychological factors can include low self-esteem or the desire for perfection. Lastly trauma can play a part, be that bullying, struggling at school or in the work place, or having been abused.

If the fight against eating disorders is going to be successful, prevention will always be better than cure. Eating disorders have an average illness time of 10 years, a significant rate of relapse and a worryingly high number of deaths either due to physical complications or suicide.

Strategies may include a population-based approach such as classes for all in Public and Social Education. Other approaches may be targeting high risk individuals such as young girls around puberty as well as competitive athletes.

There may also be scope for identifying those who are already displaying the early signs of an eating disorder. However not all persons with an eating disorder fit the stereotype. A quarter are male, which may come as a surprising statistic.

The way we act as adults undoubtedly influences our children. Referring to certain foods as “junk” as opposed to “treats” sends out a strong and sometimes less helpful message, and if youngsters see parents obsessively calorie counting or exercising, they may assume this is the norm.

Perhaps the biggest issue is challenging the messages from various aspects of society and the media that associates being unhealthily thin with messages of glamour and success. This may be the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated Darlington Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on or contact 01325 505054