Eating disorders on the rise

Hospitals and health authorities are struggling to provide effective treatments for the surging numbers of Danes with eating disorders. Research suggests that time spent on social media can increase the risk of developing the disorder

Eating disorders are on the rise. According to the latest figures from the social affairs authority, Socialstyrelsen, hospital admissions for severe cases of eating disorders have risen by as much as 25 percent since 2008, while outpatient treatments for patients with eating disorders have risen by 70 percent since 2007.

National Organization Against Eating Disorders and Self-harm (LMS), thinks too little is being done to help the 75,000 adults and children that – according to research centre for eating disorders and self-harm VIOSS – suffer from eating disorders.

Central to the issue is the division of public healthcare responsibilities. Hospitals are run by the five Danish health authorities, Danske Regioner, while outpatient care is provided by the 98 local government councils. The latest health agreement between the regions and councils was agreed in the autumn, but did not include specific strategies for improving care for patients with eating disorders.

LMS chairman Steen Andersen says the agreement was inadequate, given that only 20 percent of councils have programmes in place for the treatment and rehabilitation of patients after they have been discharged from hospital.

“The main reason why so many patients are readmitted to hospital, is that they did not receive sufficient support after being discharged,” Andersen says.

Socialstyrelsen have drawn up guidelines for councils for their outpatient treatment of people with eating disorders, and have given councils a year to report back and outline what treatment options they have to offer. But Andersen doesn’t think the guidelines will necessarily translate into new treatments.

“Some councils will undoubtedly say; ‘Fine, at the moment we have no rehabilitation options’ or even ‘In our council we have no people with eating disorders’ – which would be an outright lie.”

Pressure on resources
Ulla Astman, chairman of The Health Committee at the association of Danish regions, Danske Regioner, says everything possible is being done to improve care for people with eating disorders.

“However, it is a challenge for both the councils and the regions that more and more people are in need of treatment and hospitalisation and thereby rehabilitation. This is putting treatment capacity under pressure and therefore it is good that Socialstyrelsen has drawn up national guidelines with a series of recommendations from which the councils can be inspired, when designing care for people with eating disorders.”

Astman added that it was not feasible to alter the balance of responsibilities between the councils and regions, but added that Danske Regioner, the association of Danish councils, KL, and LMS were now collaborating to create better treatment systems so people with eating disorders experience a more coherent course of treatment.

Social media link
While there is no consensus on what is causing the increase in reported eating disorders, Dr Adrienne Key, from the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Eating Disorders Section, says there is a growing body of research that suggests social media is playing a part in the development of eating disorder symptoms, particularly in adolescents and young people.

“Although biological and genetic factors play an important role in the development of these disorders, psychological and social factors are also significant,” Key told the BBC. “That’s why we are calling on the media to take greater responsibility for the messages it sends out.”

A 2014 study from Florida State University (FSU) found that more frequent use of Facebook was associated with a greater risk of eating disorders among the study’s 960 female participants.

“Now it’s not the case that the only place you’re seeing thin and idealized images of women in bathing suits is on magazine covers,” professor of psychology Pamela Keel, who conducted the study, says in an interview on FSU’s website.

“Now your friends are posting carefully curated photos of themselves on their Facebook page that you’re being exposed to constantly. It represents a very unique merging of two things that we already knew could increase risk for eating disorders.”M


By Joshua Hollingdale

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