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Eating disorders don’t discriminate - Irish In Britain

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Eating disorders don’t discriminate

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Stereotypes about who gets an eating disorder are preventing black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), LGBT+ and people from less affluent backgrounds from seeking and getting medical treatment, according to research published today for Eating Disorders Awareness Week by the UK’s eating disorder charity Beat.

A YouGov poll commissioned by Beat found that nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) 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 groups. This widespread misconception means that eating disorders among BAME people often go unrecognised.

Eating disorders are serious mental health issues caused by a combination of genetic, biological and psychosocial factors and occur across gender, age, cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic grouping. Although there is a lack of up–to–date health research, particularly around eating disorders, on Irish people in Britain, the research that does exist demonstrates high levels of mental health issues and suicide in the community. In Ireland, it is estimated that approximately 1,757 new eating disorder cases occur each year in the 10–49 age group.

Early Intervention

The earlier in the course of the illness someone can seek help and access treatment, the better their chance of fully recovering. However, 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 percent) of BAME respondents saying they would feel confident doing so compared to almost two–thirds (64 percent) of white British respondents. 

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

Recognising symptoms in other people isn’t as straightforward as you might expect. Research has revealed that 34 percent of UK adults are unable to correctly identify the symptoms of an eating disorder. A survey of 2,108 adults also found that 79 percent who could name signs were unable to name any psychological symptoms, citing only physical ones. Respondents were twice as likely to list weight loss or appearing thin over any other symptom, such as low self–esteem or becoming obsessive about food.

Getting help

Realising that you or someone you know might have an eating disorder can be frightening. But eating disorders, while serious, are treatable, and it is very possible to make a full and sustained recovery.

You can talk in confidence to an adviser from eating disorders charity Beat by calling their adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.

  • Contact NEDA on 1–800–931–2237
  • Contact MIND Anorexia and Bulimia Care (ABC) on 03000 11 12 13
  • If you are in Ireland, contact Body Whys on 1890 200 444 or email alex@bodywhys.ie

References and more details:

NHS information on eating disorders

Beat charity

BodyWyse in Ireland

Mental Health Foundation information on eating disorders


Anorexia Bulimia Care statistics