A newly released report carried out for national eating disorder campaigning charity Beat by a volunteer economist from the charity Pro Bono Economics (PBE) has found an overall estimated cost of £1.25billion per year to the English economy from eating disorders – and could be much higher. The report sought to form a comprehensive view of the overall costs to society of eating disorders in England, especially amongst young people, and the costs to the NHS, employers and employees.

The report, by economist John Henderson volunteering with PBE, reveals overall healthcare costs estimated at £80-£100m, costs of reduced GDP up to £2.9bn, and costs of reduced length of life and health up to £6.6bn.

With mental ill health representing up to 23% of the total burden of ill health in the UK, and estimated to double over the next 20 years, the findings of the report demonstrate the severity of the impact of eating disorders on society at large.

Beat has long campaigned for early intervention – “Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders” said CEO Susan Ringwood. It is vital that the individual is able to access the right specialist treatment as early as possible. Young lives are being disrupted at crucial stages in their development with loss of education, hindering career prospects and premature death.  This report clearly demonstrates that healthcare costs would be better spent earlier to stop the effects on sufferers, their family and the community”.

Sue Holloway, Pro Bono Economics Director, says “This is the first serious attempt to quantify comprehensively the costs of eating disorders in England and the resulting estimate shows the significant scale of the problem. We hope this will support Beat to achieve its vision that eating disorders can be beaten.”

22 year old Francesca from Berkshire finds herself having to repay an extra year’s student loan for tuition fees when she was too ill to attend university. “I have suffered for 8 years and it’s affected me in a lot of ways.  I was told for numerous years that I was not ill enough for treatment until eventually I became so ill that my parents paid for me to attend a private unit. The NHS waiting list was too long. I’ve had state funded therapy for two years. My education has been adversely affected over the years and I have also suffered numerous physical health problems as a result of my eating disorder. I truly believe that if I had been given treatment earlier, my problems would not have escalated and I would not have needed so much help later on – at a cost to my family and the state.”

23 year old Annabelle from London was also told that her eating disorder was not severe enough for treatment. “By the time I received help I was in hospital for 18 months, missing almost 2 years of education and had to drop half my GCSE’s.  I also had a relapse during university and had to take a year out when my internal organs began failing.  I have osteoporosis as a result of my illness”.

And males face similar problems with the added exacerbation that through ignorance and misunderstanding their illness is not readily recognised. “I went for years and years without knowing where to turn, or not taken seriously when I did ask” says 42 year old David from London. “It was only when I’d caused major damage to my body and mind that things were noticed. My life would be very different if I’d received treatment at the outset”.

Beat is the leading UK charity helping people affected by eating disorders and campaigning on their behalf.

Pro Bono Economics (www.probonoeconomics.com) is a charity that matches volunteer economists with charities wishing to address questions of measurement, results and impact.




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