Eating disorders are affecting young Australians at an alarming rate, with many missing out on life-saving treatment due to an ill-equipped healthcare system.
While eating disorders–such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating and bulimia nervosa– can affect anyone at any age, the Australian Butterfly Foundation says they’re prevalent among adolescents and young people, with the average age of onset being between 12 and 25 years-old.
And Australian women and girls are particularly affected as almost two-thirds (63 per cent) have an eating disorder.
To better support eating disorder treatment, the Albanese government has announced this week that $70 million in grants will go towards programs to research and treat mental ill-health and eating disorders.
“A million Australians are impacted by eating disorders and many report a lack of awareness in a health system that is difficult to navigate and offers inconsistent care,” said Health Minister, Mark Butler, in response to this new funding.
“We have seen a worrying and significant deterioration in the mental health of children and a rise in self-harm and eating disorders.”
“This funding will back innovative ways to support people with eating disorders and mental ill-health and deliver better outcomes.”
Earlier this week, Independent MP Zoe Daniel addressed parliament to ask the Health Minister why there was no new funding for eating disorder treatment in the federal budget.
Elaborating on the urgency of the situation, Daniel shared the harrowing story of a young Australian girl who just recently died after a battle with her eating disorder and failed treatment experience.
“Recently, 16-year-old Katya from my electorate contacted me about the death of her 15-year-old friend due to her eating disorder,” said Daniel.
“Katya says ‘the fact that the system is so bad that it caused a once young, passionate girl full of life to commit suicide is so sickening. I can’t even express my words for how disgusted I am’.”
Daniel went on to ask the Health Minister: “On behalf of Katya and her friend, whose memorial service was this morning, why was there no new funding for eating disorder treatment in the budget?”
Katya’s friend in this story was Olivia (Liv) Evans, whose father, Robb Evans recently spoke to the ABC about the complexity of his daughter’s anorexia nervosa and the inadequate services available for support.
Liv’s father said it was bullying that started the eating disorder due to self-doubt and body image issues when she was aged 13.
“Unfortunately that bullying manifested itself into the eating disorder which she wasn’t able to talk about at the time. And it’s only probably about six months ago that she was really able to articulate it to me,” said Evans.
“And she was also through this process diagnosed as being on the [autism] spectrum as well.”
Responding to the news of the government’s announcement of the $70 million funding for eating disorder treatment, Robb says it’s a welcome move but that money won’t solve everything unless there are measures to ensure it’s being used effectively.
“Each time she came out of hospital, she was a little bit worse,” said Evans about his daughter. “And trying to get those breakthroughs in her mindset to want to be motivated to make some change was just so difficult and, ultimately, ended up in her life ending about four weeks ago.”
The exploding numbers of children and young people in Australia with eating disorders has been thrust into the spotlight this year as ABC’s Four Corners gave a chilling report that some hospitals have recorded an 80 to 104 per cent increase in children with anorexia since the pandemic started.
And globally, research is showing that a massive 30 per cent of girls show signs of disordered eating.
2023 Australian of the Year, Taryn Brumfitt has escalated the conversation as well, saying we have a “paediatric health emergency” with 70 per cent of Australian school children citing body image as their biggest concern.
“Body-shaming is a universal problem, and we have been bullied and shamed into thinking our bodies are the problem,” said Brumfitt.
If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact:
Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673
Eating Disorders Families Association on 1300 195 626
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800