Eating Disorder Stereotypes Are Preventing People From Minority Groups Accessing Support

BAME, LBGT+, older people and those from poorer backgrounds may all be affected.

Stereotypes surrounding eating disorders are preventing people from minority groups and poorer backgrounds from seeking and obtaining medical treatment, new research suggests.

People from BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic), LGBT+ and those from less affluent communities are less likely to access support, warns eating disorders charity B-eat, and this delay could make it harder for individuals from these groups to recover.

The survey, conducted by the charity Beat for Eating Disorders Awareness Week, found that nearly four in 10 (39%) of people believed eating disorders were more common amongst white people than other ethnicities. Yet clinical research has found that the illnesses are just as common or even more common among BAME people than white people.

Similar results were found for LGBT+ people, older people and people from poorer backgrounds. The charity says delays in seeking professional support could make it harder for individuals from these groups to recover.

Stock image. 
Stock image. 

Widespread misconceptions mean that eating disorders among BAME people often go unrecognised, the charity said.

Ballari, 25, had anorexia and bulimia and said that her mixed race South Asian ethnicity played a large role in her receiving help. “My father spent a lot of time learning you do not need to be a white, privileged teenage girl to have an eating disorder.” she said. “The harsh reality is eating disorders do not discriminate.”

Beat’s research found that BAME people feel less confident in seeking help from a health professional for an eating disorder than white people, with just over half (52%) of BAME respondents saying they would feel confident doing so compared to almost two-thirds (64%) of white British respondents.

Similarly, the research found that nearly 30% of respondents believed people from affluent backgrounds were more likely to get eating disorders, when actually eating disorders occur at similar rates across all levels of income and education.

Kate, 22, said that in her working class background “there was an element of disbelief” about her eating disorder. “Someone like me shouldn’t have an eating disorder, because it wasn’t common in such an environment. It wasn’t something I felt my school had had to deal with before so aside from a therapist I saw once a week or fortnight there was no support put in place to keep me on track or even to help my family,” she said.

While LGBT+ people are at significantly higher risk of eating disorders, Beat’s research found that 37% of lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents said they would not feel confident seeking help, compared to 24% of straight people.

Andy, 37, said that when he tried to explain the fact that he had binge eating disorder, he found people “thought gay men were all muscle or thin”. He said he doesn’t think people took his illness seriously. “It took years to explain that I wasn’t just greedy and my problems were emotional.”

During Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Beat is campaigning against stereotypes and is highlighting the stories of those who are not normally associated with eating disorders. You can find out more on the charity’s website.

Useful websites and helplines:
Beat, Adult Helpline: 0808 801 0677 and Youthline: 0808 801 0711 or email help@beateatingdisorders.org.uk (adults) fyp@beateatingdisorders.org.uk (youth support)
Samaritans, open 24 hours a day, on 08457 90 90 90
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393