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Charity boosts support for eating disorders

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Eating disorders2Eating Disorders Awareness Week has raised awareness and understanding of eating disorders.

The Awareness Week was organised by Beat, a national charity that helps people affected by eating disorders, and took place from 11-17 February.

Beat encouraged people to distribute leaflets, organise talks and use social media throughout the Awareness Week to spread the message that ‘Everybody knows somebody’ with an eating disorder.

People were also asked to raise money through a ‘Sock it to eating disorders’ fundraiser.

The charity suggested a variety of fundraising ideas, including knitting socks and selling them, organising a socks day at work or school and participating in a sponsored event while wearing socks.

Stephen Fry was one of the many celebrities who decorated and signed socks to support Beat and the Awareness Week. These were then framed and auctioned online.

MPs were able to express their support in a debate at Westminster Hall on 14 February.

Caroline Nokes, the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, and the charity Anorexia and Bulimia Care helped to bring about the debate, which was the first time since 2007 that eating disorders have been debated in parliament.

Anorexia and Bulimia Care director Jane Smith said: “It’s fantastic that this debate has taken place and it marks a real step forward for us in raising awareness of the severity of the issue.”

Nokes opened the debate by informing MPs about the worrying state of eating disorders in the UK, which has the highest rates of eating disorders in all of Europe.

She revealed that eating disorders are known to affect 1.6 million people in the UK, although the true figure may be much higher, and that anorexia kills 20 per cent of sufferers, while 40 per cent never recover.

Concerning anorexia, Nokes added: “It is the single biggest killer of all mental illnesses.

“It has been dismissed for too long as a problem of teenage girls who just need to get a grip on their eating patterns.

“That is far from the truth.

“Eating disorders are serious, potentially fatal, mental illnesses, which, even long after a sufferer has recovered, can have long-term implications for their health.”

MPs were shocked by Nokes’s speech and resolved to address eating disorders.

David Burrowes, the Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, said: “All of us have to accept that we know a friend, family member or constituent who is dealing with the issue, and if we do not know one, we are out of touch with what, sadly, is the reality.”

Burrowes’s comment was particularly apt as Brooks Newmark, the Conservative MP for Braintree, spoke out about his own battle with an eating disorder.

“I suspect that a strange combination of stress, fear and anger created a tipping point for me, as a 17-year-old, when I just stopped eating,” he candidly admitted.

Newmark suggested that improving  education for health care professionals, teachers and parents about eating disorders would help to ensure that sufferers receive the attention they desperately need.

Norman Lamb, the Minister of State for Care and Support, also spoke about ways to move forward.

“We must move from trying simply to treat the condition to working collaboratively with professionals and people experiencing the condition, and we must focus on recovery,” he remarked.

Lamb announced that the NHS will commission specialist services to deal with eating disorders and that the Department of Health will give £16 million to Time to Change, a campaign that aims to end the stigma against mental health and help people facing mental health issues.

He also said that the coalition government will continue to and “must challenge” the negative impact that the media, particularly advertising, has on people’s body image and self-confidence.

Lamb ended his speech by assuring eating disorder sufferers that “we are listening”.

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