With dangerous eating disorders such as anorexia on the rise in Australia, the federal government this week announced $70 million to boost research to help those affected, including new training for GPs and other clinicians.
Anorexia is becoming increasingly widespread, particularly for teenage girls, with triggers such as bullying commonly cited as the beginning for what can become a deadly spiral, devastating the lives of whole families.
The Butterfly Foundation is a national charity which deals with eating disorders and body image issues. They operate a national helpline and operate prevention, early intervention and treatment programs, as well as working on stigma reduction. Interim CEO Anna Cullinane welcomed the new government funding, which she said was desperately needed.
One million Australians are officially suffering from an eating disorder, but Ms Cullinane says research shows only a quarter of people who currently need help are getting any treatment or support, with more residential and critical care needed, as well as upskilling of the wider medical community to better understand what’s happening when people who have an eating disorder walk through the door.
Body image issues
Butterfly Foundation research published this week shows that more than 90 per cent of young people in Australia have some concern about their body image, with more than one in three ‘very or extremely concerned’.
Females, gender diverse youth and those in the LGBTQIA+ community reported the highest levels of body dissatisfaction.
Helen Bird, Manager of Education Services at Butterfly, said ‘We know that body image concerns can start early and increase during the teenage years, and this report highlights just how high body dissatisfaction and body image concerns are in young people.’
She said there couldn’t be a more compelling rationale for the need for prevention work.
‘It’s why Butterfly Foundation has been working in prevention and early intervention for 17 years, and continues to deliver programs like Butterfly Body Bright and Body Kind, to give children and young people strategies and tools to support a positive body image.’
Until recently, there’s been little knowledge of the reality of body satisfaction in young people in Australia. Butterfly Foundation says the new research supports the critical work they do with young people across the country, helping prevent serious body and eating issues, in order for young people to be able to thrive socially, emotionally and physically.
Life and death
Rob Evans recently lost his 15 year old daughter to anorexia nervosa, and has been campaigning for the condition to be taken much more seriously. He welcomed the new government funding, and said ‘any more attention and focus that we can get in the area of eating disorders, it’s got to be a help.’
Mr Evans said that in his daughter’s case, what started as a young girl being fussy with eating, at the age of thirteen, rapidly manifested into what became a terminal case of anorexia, with bullying at school most likely the initial trigger.
‘We were battling so hard to get with the professionals to find the appropriate treatment… but each time she would come out of hospital she was a little bit worse.’
He said that if all the information had been available at the beginning, there might have been better options to treat the insidious disease.
‘It’s so difficult, and there’s not one simple solution to fix it. I think it’s a combination of things, starting in school with body image and self image and resilience,’ said Mr Evans.
With better understanding of the complex causes of anorexia, the hope is that new treatments will become available.
If you or someone you know needs help with an eating disorder, you can contact the Butterfly Foundation’s national helpline on 1800 334 673. You can also chat online or email.
Lifeline is also available, on 13 11 14.