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Australia has seen a 21% increase in eating disorders since 2012

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Eating disorders in Australia have increased by 21% since 2012, with a particular rise in young people.
Eating disorders in Australia are on the rise.

Eating disorders in Australia have increased by 21% since 2012, according to a new report by the Butterfly Foundation.

There has been a particular rise in young people, with those aged 15 to 19 now most likely to have an eating disorder. This is compared to 2012, when people aged 20 to 24 were most likely.

Here’s what you need to know.

Context

Today, the Butterfly Foundation released its second edition of the ‘Paying the Price’ report, in partnership with Deloitte. Its first edition was published in 2012.

The report tracks the prevalence of eating disorders in Australia, as well as the economic and social impact of the illness.

It defines eating disorders as “a group of serious, complex and life-threatening mental illnesses characterised by disturbances in behaviours, thoughts and attitudes to food, eating, and body weight or shape.”

National picture

The report found more than 1.1 million Australians are currently living with an eating disorder, compared to about 900,000 in 2012. It said data showed eating disorders are more prevalent in women, but that this could be because men are less likely to be diagnosed or seek treatment.

Nearly 1,300 people in Australia died last year due to an eating disorder.

It referred to research that found less than 30% of people with an eating disorder seek help.

Young people

There has been a particular increase in eating disorders among young people in the past 12 years.

In 2023, 27% of people who had an eating disorder in Australia were 19 or younger. That marked a significant jump from 15% in 2012.

Of females aged 15-19, 12% lived with an eating disorder last year. This makes them the most common age category to have conditions like anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

Why the rise?

The Butterfly Foundation’s CEO Dr Jim Hungerford told TDA they “don’t know all the reasons behind” the rise. He said several factors, such as genetic and social influences, can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.

Dr Hungerford said the focus of body image on social media is a particular concern.

While noting more research is needed to understand the impact of social media, he said platforms can present users with “unrealistic perspectives on their body and how their body should look”.

Cost of eating disorders

According to the report, eating disorders cost individuals, employers, and governments nearly $21 billion last year. This cost is measured through impacts on the healthcare system, productivity, and personal costs.

It also said non-economic losses amounted to roughly $46 billion. This refers to the ‘invisible losses’ incurred due to an illness. It includes the impacts an illness can have on a person’s wellbeing, quality of life, and participation in social activities.

Next steps

The report calls for the Federal Government to spend more money in the prevention of eating disorders.

“Prevention is key — the earlier we can help someone before an eating disorder develops, the better the social and economic outcome,” Dr Hungerford said.

Federal cross-party MPs Susan Templeman (Labor), Andrew Wallace (Liberal National Party), and Zoe Daniel (independent) issued a joint statement, saying the group would take the report’s findings to the government to push for “continual improvements in the life-changing prevention and early intervention efforts”.

For more on this topic, you can listen to today’s podcast. Listen wherever you get your pods!

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