Unsafe dieting linked to obesity rise - expert

Eating disorders will increase with the rising numbers of obese and overweight people.Photo / Thinkstock
Eating disorders will increase with the rising numbers of obese and overweight people.Photo / Thinkstock

Eating disorder clinics are increasingly seeing patients who developed their condition as a result of being overweight or obese, a leading Australian health expert says.

Professor of adolescent health at Melbourne University Susan Sawyer says eating disorders will undoubtedly increase along with the rising numbers of obese and overweight people.

She says most eating disorder clinics are seeing a far greater proportion of patients who had been overweight or obese before engaging in unsafe or extreme dieting behaviour to lose weight.

"It's clear that the extent of concern about the obesity epidemic is one that everyone needs to take incredibly seriously," said Prof Sawyer, who is also the director of Adolescent Health at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, which has a specialist eating disorder clinic.

"Prevention is a major part of that but we need to be very careful about the prevention messages that we are using in order not to create an additional epidemic of eating disorders," she said.

Prof Sawyer's comments come as a report released by the Butterfly Foundation estimated almost a million Australians suffered from eating disorders, costing the economy billions of dollars.

The Paying the Price report, compiled by Deloitte Access Economics, estimated there were currently 913,986 Australians with an eating disorder.

The report suggested 1829 people died from eating disorders in 2012, a far higher figure than the 14 the ABS estimated to have died in 2010.

Prof Sawyer said the report highlighted the difficulties sufferers and their families faced in accessing specialist treatment services.

It also demonstrated the lack of reliable data available in Australia on eating disorders.

"This report will help bring visibility to the burden of eating disorders on sufferers, their families and the community which due to personal shame and community stigma, continue to be a highly invisible group of conditions," she said.

The report found binge eating disorder (BED) was the most common type of eating disorder for both men and women. Almost half of those with BED are estimated to be obese.

An unspecified eating disorder was the second most common, followed by bulimia and anorexia.

The disorders were estimated to cost the nation's health system $100 million annually and account for $15.1 billion in lost productivity.

- AAP

For help or support for an eating disorder or body image issue call Butterfly 1800 334 673 or email support@thebutterflyfoundation.org.au.

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