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New analysis shows that children starting treatment for eating disorders has more than doubled, with waiting times of over 12 weeks for urgent cases.  

1st August 2023: The number of children and young people starting treatment for eating disorders has more than doubled since 2016-17, new analysis shows, as young people face increasingly long waiting times.  

Around 11,800 children and young people began treatment for eating disorders in 2022-23, up from 5,240 in 2016-17. However, in nearly half (45%) of urgent cases, patients were waiting more than 12 weeks to begin treatment, almost three times more than 16% in 2016-17. For routine cases, this drops to 34% in 2022-23 and 20% for 2016-17 respectively. 

Since 2021-22, the NHS has set a target of 95% of children and young people with eating disorders beginning treatment within 1 week for urgent cases and 4 weeks for non-urgent cases. Analysis by the Children’s Commissioner for England reveals that the NHS is currently missing this target, with only 78% of urgent cases and 81% of non-urgent cases seen within the target time frame in the third quarter of 2022-23.  

The number of young people receiving hospital treatment for an eating disorder has also risen, with 24,300 people admitted to hospital in 2020-21 – up 84% since 2016-17. Nearly half of these patients were under the age of 25 and the vast majority were young women and girls. However, analysis also shows that admissions of young men have nearly doubled since 2016-17, from 467 in 2016-17 to 909 in 2020-21. 

It is estimated that around 1.25 million people in the UK currently suffer from an eating disorder, such as bulimia, anorexia or binge-eating. Anorexia is known to have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric condition, which is why the Children’s Commissioner is calling for children and young people to have access to effective, and potentially life-saving treatment in a timely manner.  

Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza said:  

“It’s worrying that children and young people are facing increasingly long waits for treatment for eating disorders – which are often serious and potentially life-threatening. Young people deserve timely access to effective care.  

“The Government must also focus on tackling some of the potential drivers of disordered eating. Children need to be robustly protected from harmful eating disorder content online which can drive body image issues.  

“Now is a critical moment with the Government’s Major Conditions Strategy to tackle this growing issue and ensure we remain focused on the needs of children. I hope that in merging the Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan with other major conditions in this strategy, the focus on children’s mental health is not diluted. I have submitted my response and look forward to seeing the Government’s strategy.”