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Health Eating Disorders


through. My child was starving herself right in


Starving for “I


t’s the most terrifying experience I have ever lived


front of my eyes and she still


thought she was fat.” Mary Johnson’s 15-year-old


daughter, Tara, was attending


a girls-only boarding school in England when she was diagnosed with the eating disorder, anorexia nervosa (AN). A year on, Tara, who stands 5’ 4’’ high and was around six stone at her thinnest, is now well on the way to a full recovery after receiving help from a specialist eating disorders unit at a private clinic. Her school has been really supportive, which means that Tara can choose whether to return, says her mum, who admits to being ‘desperately relieved’ that the situation is now resolving. Most larger independent schools


and boarding schools routinely deal with the issue of anorexia nervosa, a potentially fatal eating disorder when the sufferer deliberately reduces his or her calorie intake due to a devastating fear of weight gain. Typically, a school with around 600 pupils may have one young person with an eating disorder in every year group and perhaps one individual in the school who needs urgent medical intervention. “It is something that we are all aware


of and take very seriously,” says Neil Roskilly, CEO of the Independent Schools Association, representing 300 schools in England and Wales. Worryingly, the incidence of AN


and other eating disorders seems to be on the rise. The Department of Health does not keep records of people diagnosed with AN, but hospital admissions have shot up


56 FirstEleven Autumn 2011


in the last decade by around 80%. One accepted estimate is that about 1.6 million people have an eating disorder in the UK, including those who have never been formally diagnosed and manage to recover without recognition or help. Teenage girls are typical AN


sufferers, but children as young as ten are being treated. Contrary to public opinion, boys account for one in ten of those with the disease, and are increasing says the Royal College of General Practitioners, which wants doctors to be more aware of the problem because it is usually seen as a female issue.


Whatever their gender, sufferers


tend to be people who share similar personality traits, like perfectionism and a tendency to see the world in “black and white” without shades of grey. They can come from any socio-economic group. The idea that anorexia is a disease of the affluent has now largely been discounted. Dr Jamie Arkell is a consultant


psychiatrist who has spent time working at a specialist eating disorders unit at a London teaching hospital. He says: “People with eating disorders, whether male or female, tend to be black-and-white thinkers, perfectionists and strivers


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Anorexia is on the rise – and schools and universities are Plus Dr Adrienne Key, consultant at the Priory Hospital in


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