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EATING DISORDERS IN TEENS UP BY 57%; ...and experts say that Twitter and Facebook could be to blame.

Byline: JAMES MCCARTHY Reporter

EATING disorders in teenagers have increased by 57% in the past 10 years, according to new figures - and experts say social media could be to blame.

Last year there were 74 youngsters admitted to hospital in Wales, slightly down on 79 the year before.

But in 2005-06 there were just 47 admissions.

The number of boys treated - seven - was the highest figure since eight were hospitalised in 2009-10.

And experts say numbers suffering from the likes of anorexia and bulimia could actually be far higher.

Tom Quinn from eating disorder charity Beat said: "Hospital admissions for eating disorders only show the tip of the iceberg and so cannot be used to determine whether the number of people with an eating disorder is increasing or decreasing. "Many others will be either undiagnosed, receiving outpatient treatment or no treatment at all.

"Reliable data on the number of people with an eating disorder is not currently collated by any authority in the UK.

"It must be, if we want to truly understand the scale of the problem. "But we are concerned that more people are accessing this intensive treatment, reserved usually for the most severe cases, as it could indicate that outpatient treatment provision is not strong enough," Mr Quinn said.

He added: "While inpatient services should be available for those who need them it is vital that intervention is sought early and that local community services are funded appropriately.

"Accessing effective treatment as early as possible once symptoms appear gives individuals the best chance of full recovery.

"Around 725,000 people are estimated to have eating disorders in the UK. These severe mental illnesses do not just affect women and studies show that up to 25% of those suffering with anorexia and bulimia are male."

This could mean more than 34,000 people in Wales are suffering eating disorders.

Mental health charity Hafal believes websites like Twitter and Facebook have to take their share of the blame.

"Hafal notes the increase in the number of young people in Wales receiving support for eating disorders," a spokesman said.

"In today's society young people are often exposed to a Utopian view of the world in the media, including an unrelenting churn of unattainable, airbrushed bodies on social media.

"Growing up can be a difficult time for young people, and constant exposure to such images can lead to an unhealthy pressure to achieve unrealistic body types - which can result in body dysmorphia."

That is when someone wrongly perceives their body to be ugly.

"By teaching emotional intelligence and embedding coping mechanisms into the school curriculum we can ensure that young people grow up not only aware of their emotional needs but also able to support themselves," the spokesman added.

Dietician Sioned Quirke said one reason for the increase was that "diagnosis was much better these days".

But she agreed social media had played a part.

"I think social media has taken a role in the growth in eating disorders, especially among young people," she said.

She cited orthorexia as an example of a condition fuelled by the internet.

"It's not a recognised eating disorder like anorexia, but it is something I am sure we will see become a recognised eating disorder, " she said.

"It is where people eat only what they perceive to be healthy.

"What I have personally seen is young people following celebs on Instagram or Twitter reading their blogs and thinking they can have that lifestyle.

"Before you realise they have developed an unhealthy relationship with food and then suddenly they have developed an eating disorder.

"That is true for young men, too."
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 7, 2016
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