Debate: Eating Disorders Awareness Week

I was pleased to speak today in the debate recognising Eating Disorders Awareness Week. In summing up, I asked both Governments to ensure there was sufficient funding for support services and to consider whether there should be enhanced control of marketing of slimming products to young and vulnerable individuals.

10.06 am
Bill Grant (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Bailey, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) for securing this important debate in Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

According to YoungMinds, one in 12 teenagers in the United Kingdom suffer from eating disorders, and about 25% of those with eating disorders are noted as being male. Statistics for 2017-18 recorded that 536 Scots were treated for eating disorders. Eating disorders are complex illnesses that take many forms, such as anorexia nervosa, which was mentioned earlier, whereby people erroneously believe that they are overweight.

The root causes of these disorders are unclear, but they may include things such as career choices. The biographies of many jockeys speak of crash dieting and sometimes dehydrating themselves with the aid of saunas, to reach a low weight prior to a race. The image of the ballerina is of a slight and fragile figure floating through the air. What must it take to maintain such a body image? In show-business, there are child stars of stage and screen for whom the limelight proves too much, or perhaps they fear losing popularity during the transition to adulthood. How will growing up affect their future career?

It is important not to stereotype and to be alert to the fact that eating disorders befall people regardless of their age, gender, race, or socioeconomic circumstances. What is clear are the dangers associated with the resulting malnutrition and the serious complications, such as osteoporosis, low blood pressure, heart failure, oedema and anaemia. Anorexia can be life-threatening; it is one of the leading causes of deaths related to mental health problems. Every single such loss is a tragedy for the individual themselves and their family—indeed, the unnecessary loss of a life is also a tragedy for the nation.

Binge eating is characterised by an uncontrolled addiction to food, involving over-eating and exceedingly fast eating in secret, whether the person is hungry or not. And bulimia is a combination of the worst elements of both anorexia and binge eating.

Encouragement to seek treatment at the earliest opportunity will no doubt enhance the chances of recovery, which very often is a long-term process, requiring an immense amount of support from professionals and family members. However, as with any addiction, the person must acknowledge their problem—in this case, unhealthy eating—and they themselves must want to seek assistance. Anxiety and depression are common threads, whether as a cause or a result of an eating disorder.

I acknowledge the good work of the child and adolescent mental health staff of NHS Ayrshire & Arran, but from the complaints I have heard at surgeries from my constituents about waiting times for appointments, it is clear that the numbers of those much-welcomed professional staff do not match society’s demand for their time and support. When individuals with eating disorders reach out for help, we as a society must grasp that hand and be there for them. I welcome the new guidelines for Scotland announced at the beginning of this week, which it is stated will assist in providing a range of approaches to mental health issues, ensuring that help is available when and where it is needed.

In closing, I ask both Governments to continue providing vital funding for much-needed support services for persons afflicted with eating disorders and their heartbroken families—heartbroken does not sum it up; it does not describe the agony and the pain that those families go through. I also ask them to consider whether there needs to be enhanced control of slimming and dietary products, especially the marketing of those products to young and vulnerable individuals. I understand from the news that only this week, concerns were expressed by Food Standards Scotland that DNP—dinitrophenol, an industrial chemical—is being illegally marketed as a slimming pill, which FSS considers to be potentially lethal. It is still available to purchase on the internet, and we as a Government need to rein in social media platforms that permit, condone, or have a policy of turning a blind eye for the pursuit of profit, regardless of the health and wellbeing of our young people. As a Government, as has been said earlier, we must seriously bring those people to book for the damage and harm that they are causing to families throughout the United Kingdom.