Study Finds Eating Disorders Cost U.K. $23 Billion Annually

By McCarton Ackerman 02/25/15

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in the U.S. serves as a grim reminder that it's a worldwide epidemic.

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With February 22-28 designated as National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in America, it serves as a grim reminder that eating disorders are a big problem all over the world, especially the United Kingdom.

A new report has found that eating disorders cost the U.K. upwards of $23 billion per year. Accountancy and professional services firm PwC conducted the first-ever analysis of the financial effects of eating disorders, which was commissioned by the eating disorder charity, Beat.

Assessing the financial damage by calculating the financial burden on the 600,000 U.K. residents who suffer from these disorders, as well as lost income to the economy, PwC stressed that their estimate was actually on the conservative side and didn’t account for the human cost in terms of “quality of life.” The firm also noted that the health and well-being of these people were impacted by an “unacceptable” postcode lottery for treatment.

Susan Ringwood and Chris Outram, the chief executive and chairman of Beat, referred to eating disorder treatment in the U.K. as “patchy at best [and] inadequate at worst” with “unacceptable variability.” The findings are particularly upsetting for them because they believe eating disorders can be beaten if intervention takes place early enough. But instead, families often “get overwhelmed, desperate, and broken by the challenge of beating an eating disorder.”

Utilizing national survey data from of 400 eating disorder sufferers and 100 caregivers, Beat found that nearly half of those with an eating disorder waited a year before receiving help. Once they reached out for help, it took about a year to receive a proper diagnosis and another six months to receive treatment. Professor Janet Treasure, director of the eating disorders unit at King’s College London, said this lengthy lapse in time can make the problem worse by changes in the brain as a result of “prolonged starvation and/or abnormal eating behaviors.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called the findings in the report “completely unacceptable” and demanded a call to action. He recently announced that about $230 million in government funding would go towards treating young people with eating disorders and vowed to bring wait times for treatment down in the next year.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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