Eating Disorders Awareness Week 25 February – 3 March

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25 February to 3 March 2019 is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This is an opportunity to raise awareness of the different eating disorders which can affect people of any age, gender or ethnicity.

This blog provides a definition of eating disorders, then explains what the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government have done on the issue, before providing a note of what support is available.

What are eating disorders?

According to the NHS inform website:

Eating disorders include a range of conditions that can affect someone physically, psychologically (mentally) and socially (their ability to interact with others). The most common eating disorders are:

  • anorexia nervosa, when someone tries to keep their weight as low as possible, for example by starving themselves or exercising excessively
  • bulimia, when someone tries to control their weight by binge eating and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives (medication to help empty their bowels)
  • binge eating, when someone feels compelled to overeat.

Eating disorders that do not fit with the above definitions may be described as:

  • atypical eating disorders
  • eating disorders not otherwise specified.

Around 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2,000 men (in the UK) will experience anorexia nervosa at some point. The condition usually develops around the age of 16 or 17.

Bulimia is around five times more common than anorexia nervosa and 90% of people with bulimia are female. It usually develops around the age of 18 or 19.

Binge eating usually affects males and females equally and usually appears later in life, between the ages of 30 and 40. Due to the difficulty of precisely defining binge eating, it is not clear how widespread the condition is.

What’s happened in the Scottish Parliament?

Eating disorders, and support for those who suffer from them, have been addressed in several ways in the Scottish Parliament. SPICe has produced several briefings on mental health. The briefing Child and Adolescent Mental Health –Trends and Key Issues includes information relating directly to eating disorders.

The subject of eating disorders has been raised several times in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament. Most recently there has been a motion (S5M-15889) by Emma Harper MSP highlighting Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2019. This motion was debated in the Chamber on 27 February 2019.

On 28 February 2018, the Scottish Parliament debated Eating Disorders Awareness week following a motion by Clare Haughey MSP (S5M-09834). There was also a debate regarding diabulimia on 2 November 2017. This followed Annie Wells MSP’s motion (S5M-08003). More information on the range of questions raised in the Scottish Parliament can be found on the Motions, Questions and Answers search on the Scottish Parliament website.

What has the Scottish Government done regarding eating disorders?

In order to try to support people suffering from eating disorders, the Scottish Government has published its Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027, which aims to improve mental health services for all people across Scotland. The 40 action points contained in the plan includes point 22: Support development of a digital tool to support young people with eating disorders. This was launched in February 2018.

The Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) are producing new guidelines for doctors across Scotland. These will support the treatment and care of patients with eating disorders. These guidelines will be considered in 2019-2020. A Scottish Government press release on this was issued on 25 February 2019.

What support is available?

There are a number of support groups available across Scotland. They can provide help and advice to people suffering from eating disorders, as well as friends and family of sufferers.

  • CAMHS – Child and adolescent mental health services. The NHS can offer counselling services to children and young people to help with mental illness, including eating disorders. Each CAHMS team will have its own website and services differ from area to area. Children can be referred to CAHMS through their GP or key worker.
  • CarED – Peer support online group. This group was created by NHS Lothian and funded by the Scottish Government to provide an online platform to allow young people to pair with a trained volunteer who has recovered from an eating disorder. There is also a website available for parents and carers of young people recently diagnosed with an eating disorder.
  • Scottish Eating Disorders Interest Group (SEDIG) is a Scottish charity set up to help advise and support sufferers and carers affected by eating disorders. They also provide information of health professionals.
  • BEAT Eating Disorders can help people suffering from eating disorders across the UK, as well as give advice to friends and family of sufferers.
  • Diabetes UK can provide support to Type 1 diabetics affected by diabulimia. They have a helpline with trained counsellors who can listen and advise on treatment.

Managed Clinical Networks (a linked group of health professionals and organisations) are also available across Scotland to help with eating disorders:


Lindsay Richardson, SPICe Enquiries Assistant