Survey finds nearly one in five women could have an eating disorder

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on Dec 18, 2020

Survey finds nearly one in five women could have an eating disorder

New data from The Health Survey for England uncovered that 19% of women screened positive for a possible eating disorder when questioned about their relationship with food

According to charity Beat, eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that can involve restricting or avoiding food, bulimia, binge eating, and anorexia. As with all experiences, eating disorders exist on a scale but, wherever someone sits on that scale, it’s still vital to take their experiences seriously.

Monitoring the trends of the nation’s health, the Health Survey for England (2019) has uncovered some worrying trends. After surveying 8,205 adults and 2,095 children, the report found that nearly one in five women (19%) screen positive for a possible eating disorder, with prevalence highest among those aged under 35 years old.

In the survey, participants were asked whether, during the last year, they:

  • Had lost more than one stone in a three month period
  • Had made themselves sick because they felt uncomfortably full
  • Had worried they had lost control over how much they ate
  • Had believed themselves to be fat when others said they were too thin
  • Would have said food dominated their life

While these survey questions, known as the SCOFF questionnaire, cannot diagnose an eating disorder – a full clinical examination is required for that – those who score two or more ‘yes’ answers become a positive screening for a ‘possible eating disorder’.

Eating disorders, like many mental illnesses, are shrouded in misconceptions and stereotypes. These are damaging because they may prevent people from reaching out for help, and make it harder for others to spot the signs.

When it comes to eating disorders, the experiences of men aren’t always as recognised. But, The Health Survey for England found that one in eight men also screened positive for a possible eating disorder, highlighting the importance of pushing past stereotypes, and acknowledging the many different lives that are affected.

As we head towards the Christmas season, we know that it can be a difficult time of year for those living with eating disorders. Beat’s helpline is open 365 days of the year, 9am–8pm during the week and 4pm–8pm on weekends and bank holidays. For support, call:

  • Helpline: 0808 801 0677
  • Studentline: 0808 801 0811
  • Youthline: 0808 801 0711

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