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Now men fall prey to anorexia as they seek a body like Beckham


By Jo Macfarlane

Last updated at 11:12 PM on 02nd August 2008




article-0-01AB0BC000000578-101_233x524.jpg Toned: But as men seek a body like Beckham they are falling prey to anorexia


It is a complaint usually associated with teenage girls but the number of men being treated for the eating disorder anorexia has gone up by 67 per cent in the past five years.

The increase is being blamed partly on the rising popularity of lifestyle magazines for men featuring pictures of trim sportsmen such as David Beckham.

Official figures for England show that 137 men suffering the most severe cases of anorexia saw specialists in the past year – up from 82 during 2001/02. Experts say the figure is just the tip of the iceberg as it reflects only those whose treatment is so vital that it could save their lives.

They say calls from men to eating disorder helplines increased tenfold after former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott revealed his battle with bulimia. And they claim male anorexia has become an ‘unrecognised spiralling epidemic’ as men as well as women are bombarded with images of the ideal body.

The figures were released by the Department of Health in response to questions from the Conservatives.

They reveal that specialist appointments in hospitals for anorexia have risen by 32 per cent to 1,700. The number of children under 14 being seen rose by 26 per cent from 202 in 2001/02 to 255 during the past year.

Some areas were worse affected than others. In Durham the number of anorexics being seen in hospitals has rocketed by 360 per cent, in South-East London the figure has risen by 246 per cent and in Yorkshire by 139 per cent.

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of eating disorder charity Beat, said the rise in male anorexia masked a much bigger problem because men traditionally are less likely to seek help. But, since Mr Prescott spoke out, phone calls to its helpline from men had increased almost ten times.







‘There has been a rise in focus on the body aesthetic and that’s affecting men as well as girls,’ she said. There has undoubtedly been some influence from the rise in male magazines.

‘Clinics are now seeing many more men, as well as children as young as eight. We know children are more likely to develop an eating disorder during puberty, and puberty is starting on average five years earlier than it did 50 years ago.’

Consultant psychiatrist Frances Connan, lead clinician for the Vincent Square eating-disorder clinic, part of Central and North-West London NHS Foundation Trust, said it was ‘doubly humiliating’ for men to come forward because mental health and anorexia were seen as ‘girls’ problems’. But she said men were now succumbing to the same idealistic stereotypes as women.

Anorexics seeking clinical help are seen by psychologists or psychiatrists in a hospital trust. Children are referred to an adolescent mental health team.

Some need medical advice on nutrition and may need clinical help to put on weight. In some cases that can mean having a feeding tube or drip inserted.

But many hospitals do not have eating disorder specialists and some patients are forced to travel hundreds of miles to seek help.

Shadow Health Minister Anne Milton said the figures were shocking.

‘At one end of the scale we have some frightening statistics on obesity and at the other we have young people suffering from this tragic illness,’ she said.

‘This is yet another example of the Government dropping the ball on child and adolescent mental health.’

A Healthcare Commission inquiry last month found that many trusts were failing mental health patients. It revealed that many vulnerable patients were being allowed to escape and found wards to be understaffed and overcrowded.

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘We take the issue of eating disorders, especially among young people, very seriously.’

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