Thousands of children counselled for eating disorders driven by mental health and body image worries

There has been a 22 per cent rise in Childline counselling sessions about eating disorders and eating problems since 2016/17, the NSPCC has revealed.
There has been a 22 per cent rise in Childline counselling sessions about eating disorders and eating problems since 2016/17, the NSPCC has revealed.

Body image concerns and mental health difficulties are fuelling a rise in the number of young people contacting Childline about eating disorders, new NSPCC figures reveal.

Childline, the service provided by the NSPCC, carried out 5,934 counselling sessions about eating disorders and eating problems – the equivalent to 16 a day – with children in 2017/18, up 22 per cent since 2016/17.

Almost nine in every ten counselling sessions were with girls, including 148 counselling sessions with girls aged 10-11. Nearly one in six counselling sessions about eating problems mentioned anorexia, while one in ten mentioned bulimia, and almost a third mentioned negative or distorted body image.

Katherine Brown, NSPCC Schools Service Coordinator for Northamptonshire, said: “Young people tell Childline that they feel under pressure to look a certain way and live a certain life, and it’s worrying that we are seeing so many children contact us about eating disorders as a result, in some cases when they are still at primary school.

“It’s crucial that all those struggling with such debilitating eating problems are given all the help they need to make a full recovery so that they can go on to enjoy their childhood and teenage years to the full.

“The starting point on that journey is to open up and talk to someone who can listen without judgement, which is why Childline is such a crucial service for these thousands of children.”

One in four counselling sessions were about avoiding certain foods or restricting food intake, raising fears that these children could go on to develop anorexia or bulimia if they did not receive early help and support.

In addition, thousands of children contacting Childline about other mental health issues including suicidal feelings and self-harm also talked about eating disorders or eating problems, bringing the total number of counselling sessions where eating disorders or eating problems were mentioned in 2017/18 to 11,752.

The NSPCC recently warned that the children’s mental health system is under real pressure due to increased demand, and that this is jeopardising the well being of thousands of children.

Its 'Are You There?' campaign is calling on Government to invest some of the £300 million it has committed for children’s mental health services towards early support services such as Childline.

Children and young people can contact Childline for free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk