On Thursday 2 June 2016, activists, professionals, carers/parents and sufferers will unite and send a message to the world highlighting the need for good quality treatment and early intervention in eating disorder services.
This is the first ever global day dedicated to eating disorders, and professionals from 40 different countries and activists from all over the world are taking part. It could not have come soon enough for us here in the UK where the number of young people hospitalised for an eating disorder has doubled in the past three years.
Here are five reasons why we must act on World Eating Disorder Day:
1. Eating disorders can be deadly
An eating disorder is often dismissed as 'just a phase' or dieting that has gone too far. However, there is nothing remotely phase-like about eating disorders: they can be deadly and 20% of anorexia sufferers die from medical complications or suicide. The death rate associated with anorexia is 12 times higher than all other causes of death for 15-24 year old females. Bulimia and binge eating disorder can also lead to very serious medical complications. Although this is scary to contemplate, with treatment many people can and do recover, yet we cannot afford to forget that eating disorders are very serious illnesses.
2. Eating disorders aren't always obvious
What comes to mind when you think of somebody with an eating disorder? Most of us picture an emaciated teenage girl; we don't see the bulimic 40-year-old mother with two kids and a high flying career or the accomplished male athlete. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes; not everyone will become underweight and some people might not even look ill. The most insidious eating disorders may go unnoticed for years.
3. Eating disorders don't discriminate
Eating disorders don't discriminate based on age, gender or ethnic background - anybody can be affected. There is a tendency to see them as only affecting white teenage girls, when actually eating disorders are prevalent across all cultures and there is currently a grave concern regarding eating disorder treatment in Japan. Similarly, at least one in 10 sufferers are male; although this figure could in fact be a lot higher as men are less likely to come forward for help. For a problem that is so widespread we need more campaigning on a global scale to tackle it.
4. Early intervention saves lives, but waiting lists for treatment are getting longer
Clinicians have known for decades that early intervention in eating disorders is associated with much better recovery outcomes. However, we are facing a crisis where the waiting list for treatment is getting longer and longer; many people are left waiting at least six months after a referral, with some people waiting up to three years before NHS treatment. The longer an eating disorder is left to fester, the more entrenched it becomes. On World Eating Disorder Day we need to send a message that waiting lists of this length are no longer acceptable.
5. We don't actually know that much about eating disorders
Although significant advancements have been made in terms of identifying the biological and psychological roots of eating disorders, we still know surprisingly little about how best to treat them. We are still identifying which genes may be involved in the development of eating disorders and why they are most likely to present in adolescence. We can't explain why somebody responds well to one treatment whereas another doesn't and why we have a number of cases which seem so 'treatment-resistant' that management of the disorder is the only option. The only way to tackle these questions is to fund more diverse research into eating disorders and we should use World Eating Disorder Day to make a call for this. What we do know is that recovery is always possible and sufferers can go on to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives after their eating disorder.
World Eating Disorder Day
World Eating Disorders Action Day aims to advance understanding of eating disorders as serious, treatable illnesses. For more information visit: http://worldeatingdisordersday.org/