Data reveals a 50% surge in body image worries among 11-19 year olds

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An eating disorder crisis among children looms after body concerns rocketed by 263% during the pandemic, experts warned last night.

Data reveals a 50% surge in body image worries among 11 to 19-year-olds since last spring.

Posts on the MeeToo mental health app by its 45,000 young users detailing their lockdown experiences shed disturbing new light on eating disorders, self harm and school anxiety.

Since the pandemic began, posts on the self-help forum about diet or eating habits rose by 152% among 11 to 13-year-olds, 263% for those aged 14 to 16, and 105% for older teens aged 17 to 19.

The figures came after a series of nationwide school closures and growing warnings from mental health counsellors.

Analysts recorded a 50% rise in general posts about bodies between March and May 2020, just as the UK was plunged into its first lockdown.

MeeToo moderators say the increased posts on diet and eating disorders came from both boys and girls.

Trends included relapses during lockdown; the influence of parents, particularly mothers; issues with mental health services; and the loss of periods as a key “goal” for girls with eating disorders.

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Some 97% of teachers recently polled by the app thought student mental health issues were rising.

But only 18% felt they had the training needed to support pupils.

App founder Dr Kerstyn Comley said: “The worrying increase in posts about eating habits over lockdown suggests we could see a new and bigger wave of children with eating disorders.

“With such long waiting lists for child and adolescent mental health services, high-quality early intervention and peer to peer support is more important than ever.”

A separate report from London Youth and the Youth Sector Data Hub showed 85% of youth clubs in the capital said tackling mental health and anxiety was their biggest priority this year.

London Youth trustee Charline King said: “Young people are commonly perceived as being so tough and resilient. “However, many of the young people we work with have battled with mental health challenges throughout this past year, commonly more vocalised by our young women.

“They have relied upon our youth workers’ consistency, care and commitment to overcome stress, depression and self-harming behaviours.”

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Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Sousa, said: “Mental health is the big issue facing this generation of children.

“Over the last two decades rates of mental health conditions in children have been increasing and during the pandemic they went up even more rapidly, making the state of mental health services in England more important than ever.

“Over the last few years, the NHS has made real progress in improving children’s access to mental health services and treatment for eating disorders, but this needs to be accelerated.”

Mental Health Minister Nadine Dorries said: “Eating disorders can have a devastating impact on individuals and their families, and we know NHS eating disorder services have seen demand shoot up during the pandemic.

“We are committed to ensuring that young people who need help, get it.

“To do that, as part of our Mental Health Recovery Action Plan, we’re investing £79million to expand children’s mental health services and opening up eating disorder services to an extra 2,000 young people.

“We’re expanding and transforming mental health services in England with an additional £2.3billion a year earmarked for mental health services by 2023/24.”