Barnardo's responds to rise in the number of teenagers diagnosed with eating disorders or self-harming.

Published on
21 June 2023

A new study has revealed a huge increase in the number of teenager girls being diagnosed with an eating disorder or self-harming during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The study by the University of Manchester, Keele University and University of Exeter, and then published in the Lancet Child And Adolescent Health journal, looked at nine million records belonging to patients aged 10-24 years, from nearly 2,000 GP practices across the UK It found that since March 2020 - when the pandemic hit - eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia have been 42% higher than would be expected for teenage girls aged 13-16, and 32% higher for those aged 17-19, The number of cases of self-harm was 38% higher than expected among girls aged 13 to 16.

Lynn Perry MBE, CEO of Barnardo’s, said: 

“The pandemic put huge pressure on children and young people as certainty and routine were stripped from their lives, often leading them to feel isolated and spend more time online.  Therefore, this research, which reveals a sharp rise in the number of teenage girls self-harming and developing eating disorders, comes as no surprise during a youth mental health crisis. 

Our recent YouGov poll suggests many children will be missing out on activities this summer, meaning they will once again be spending even more time online. This further increases the risk of exposure to harmful content, including videos, images and chat rooms promoting unrealistic body ideals, which can all too easily spiral into dangerous behaviour. 

“The current gaps in children and young people’s mental health provision across early intervention, diagnosis and support are pouring fuel on a fire. That’s why Barnardo’s is calling for the expansion of Mental Health Support Teams to all schools and colleges to help identify children who are struggling and provide support before they reach crisis point.” 

Barnardo’s also works in partnership with the East London NHS Foundation Trust on Be Body Positive, a digital resource which help children and young people who are struggling with disordered eating to reduce the risk of their condition developing into a clinical eating disorder.

About Barnardo’s

Last year Barnardo’s provided essential support to over 357,000 children, young people, parents and carers through more than 790 services and partnerships across the UK. 

We provide vital support to the children and families who need us most, to help with a range of issues including mental health, child sexual abuse and children in care. 

We listen to children and young people and work to bring about positive change so that they can have a brighter future.

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