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JAN 20/2014

Eating disorders; a growing problem for the NHS

More NHS nurses could be hired over the coming years as UK healthcare providers step up their efforts to address the growing burden posed by eating disorders.

In the past, problems associated with eating habits assumed a relatively low profile in the minds of healthcare service operators, the mainstream media and the British population in general, but the last few years have seen a dramatic reversal of this trend.

Improved education about these conditions has partly played a role, but the main driver of awareness of this issue is the increasingly prominent impact it is having on people - as well as the amount of money being spent by the NHS to try and stem the tide of eating disorder-related issues.

At the moment, the problem of overeating is an area of key focus for healthcare services, as obesity is fast becoming a nationwide epidemic, while also affecting a number of other developed nations.

Data from the NHS in 2012 revealed that just over a quarter of all adults in England are obese, a rate that is expected to increase in the years and decades to come, while the number of children affected by weight problems is also on the rise.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt believes the UK is lagging behind other developed nations such as the US when it comes to addressing the issue, creating a growing problem for the NHS, due to the fact that medical treatment for obese people is required frequently and is often complicated by their weight.

However, overeating is far from the only eating problem that is becoming more frequent. Problems such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders are also being diagnosed more frequently, making it essential that more staff are recruited and adequately trained to deal with these patients.

A 2013 study from King's College London and the UCL Institute of Child Health revealed that the number of people diagnosed with eating disorders has increased by 15 per cent since 2000, with incidences among males rising by 27 per cent.

Furthermore, statistics from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence highlighted by the charity organisation Beat suggest there are at least 1.6 million eating disorder sufferers in the UK.

In order to help the NHS cope better with the rising prevalence of these conditions, more needs to be done to expand the availability of relevant services, while hiring more appropriately-trained staff.

For example, the Royal College of Surgeons and the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society recently noted that many UK patients do not have access to bariatric surgery, because the intensive weight loss programmes that are a prerequisite to surgery are not being commissioned in some areas.

Meanwhile, Medacs Healthcare is working with Beat to recruit registered nurses to deliver eating disorder awareness training at schools across the country, aimed at helping teachers, parents and young people to better grasp the issues involved.

It is hoped that by improving the general understanding of eating-related medical problems and improving access to relevant care options, the growing burden they are placing on the NHS can be lightened.

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