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Eating disorders: illness not a game

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It is shocking how many have an eating disorder It is shocking how many have an eating disorder

As the magazine goes to press it is Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW), led by the charity Beat. An estimated one in 10 people will suffer from full or partial symptoms of an eating disorder during their lifetime. Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre have shown an 8% rise in the number of hospital admissions for eating disorders. However, the charity has said that this likely masks a much bigger problem since the majority are treated as outpatients, in private treatment centres or not at all. The rise could also reflect an increase in the numbers of people developing these illnesses.

EDAW struck a chord with me as I, along with many others no doubt, was truly shocked recently after news reports led me to visit pro-anorexia (pro-ana) and pro-bulimia (pro-mia) websites. The detailed tips and glorification of living in the grip of EDs shocked me in a way little has done. But while the extreme feelings and behaviours expressed are horrifying, they are educational, in that they provide an insight into the mindset of patients that, without the internet, would be hidden from view.

EDAW draws attention to the fact that men as well as women experience EDs, and that children and students, at a vulnerable time in their lives, are at risk. These groups are also more likely to access the pro-ED websites. It also highlights that EDs are an illness that can severely damage a person's body and health, something not in evidence on the pro websites.

Nurses in primary care will be in contact with ED sufferers, and concerned parents. Familiarity with symptoms (clinical, behavioural and psychological) and an understanding of EDs and treatment guidance will help them to advise or intervene where necessary. For more information, see the NICE guidance (CG9, 2004) on eating disorders.

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