Patients with eating disorders told they’re ‘not thin enough’ for treatment

Sabrina Barr

An MP has issued a warning over the danger of not treating patients for eating disorders unless they’re deemed “thin enough” by health professionals.

Wera Hobhouse, a Liberal Democrat politician and MP for Bath, was speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on eating disorders, which took place this week.

She began by imploring the House to consider “reducing stigma around eating disorders”, before telling the story of a young woman from her constituency who experienced anorexia as a student.

Hobhouse read out an email that she received from the woman, in which she detailed being refused treatment as she “didn’t meet the diagnostic criteria”.

“I never got diagnosed with anorexia, despite going from a size 16 to a size eight in less than a year,” the email read.

“I went through the monthly humiliation of being dragged onto scales and told I wasn’t thin enough to be helped yet. And not having a formal diagnosis is hard.

“When I tell people I was anorexic, they never quite believe me, as even doctors didn’t.”

Hobhouse continued, explaining that the stereotype that a person is only suffering from an eating disorder if they’re underweight must be abolished.

Approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, according to charity Beat.

However, Anorexia and Bulimia Care states that the true figure of people suffering from eating disorders in the UK could be closer to four million, as so many of those affected don’t seek help or are not diagnosed accurately.

According to the NHS, a person may be underweight if their body mass index (BMI) falls below 18.5.

However, many researchers claim that the BMI scale isn’t an accurate measure of health, with a study by UCLA concluding that tens of millions of people who were classified as overweight on the BMI scale were actually in good health.

“To judge an eating disorder simply by BMI is not good enough; rather, we need to look at the trend and rapidity of weight loss and the story that sufferers tell,” Hobhouse said.

“We know that the Department of Health and Social Care knows this is an issue. We know that if we fail to take action, people not only suffer but, in some cases, lose their lives.”

Earlier this year, a YouGov survey commissioned by Beat revealed that more than a third of UK adults don’t know how to identify the symptoms of an eating disorder.

Furthermore, the study also found that 79 per cent of the adults who could name signs of an eating disorder were only able to name the physical symptoms, and not the psychological ones.

“These results are worrying because we know lack of awareness can stop sufferers getting the treatment they desperately need as soon as possible,” said Andrew Radford, Beat’s chief executive.