Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram are fuelling a rise in people being treated for eating disorders at Edinburgh hospitals, a leading charity has warned.
New NHS Lothian figures show that in just ten years the number of patients admitted with eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia, has rocketed by more than 40 per cent.
Charities warn that a rise in so-called “orthorexia” – an obsession with eating healthy food – along with images of fit and toned bodies on social media could be contributing to the rise.
New NHS figures show 161 people were treated for eating disorders in Edinburgh and the Lothians in 2005, compared with 231 last year – an increase of 43 per cent.
“Clean eating” and wellness bloggers have become increasingly popular on the internet, with books on healthy eating regularly topping the charts and Instagram accounts featuring food blogs gathering thousands of followers. But social media sites allow people with no medical qualifications to market unscientific diet plans and exercise regimes.
Beat, the UK’s leading charity supporting people affected by eating disorders, warns orthorexia could be contributing to the rise in incidence of eating disorders in the Capital.
A spokeswoman said: “There is anecdotally an increase in the instances of people having orthorexia and this may be exacerbated by the emphasis on what is termed ‘healthy eating’, which may prompt people to go beyond taking care and moving into fixation or obsession.
“Additionally, the increasing emphasis on body muscle and tone over and above size and shape may well be affecting incidence of orthorexia, along with more imagery available on social media and the increase in marketed products for ‘fit’ bodies.
Eating disorders can be life threatening as people try to keep their weight as low as possible, usually by restricting the amount of food they eat. They often have a distorted image of themselves, thinking that they are fat when they are not.
Tina McGuff, a mother-of-four, developed an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating after her children were born.
She said: “It happened very naturally, I was eating healthy foods and my weight was fine, but I was completely obsessive. I started to hunt out superfoods, would go to health food shops and buy magazines. Everything I ate had to be super healthy and organic.”
Tina started to follow an increasingly restrictive organic, vegan diet and exercising obsessively. She also put her children on the same regime.
“It has not had a negative impact on them thankfully,” she said. “But I thought I had to follow whatever I read in the magazines, so I made sure they only ate what was deemed healthy and nutritious food.”
Nowadays Tina is a healthy size 14 and has a much better relationship with eating.
She said: “Now I have everything in moderation. I’m still vegetarian and think healthy eating is important, but if someone one offers me an ice cream and I want one then I’ll have it. I’m content and very happy.”
No-one was available from NHS Lothian to comment.