CHILDREN as young as 12 are now seeking help for serious eating disorders across Ireland.
A shock new report by the Eating Disorder Centre in Cork (EDCC) also revealed that boys are chronically less willing to present for help than girls.
Incredibly, more than 33pc of those now attending the EDCC are aged between 15 and 20 years.
However, people in their 60s have also presented for help.
It is now estimated that up to 5pc of Ireland’s population are affected by eating disorders of various kinds.
Alarmingly, anorexia nervosa – the best known and most feared of all eating disorders – has the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition.
The report, prepared with the support of the Health Service Executive (HSE) and Department of Health, outlined a vast range of ages for those now presenting for help.
Researcher Dr Cormac Sheehan noted that a startling 89pc of EDCC respondents were female.
The study noted that while eating disorders tend to impact on women more than men, the sheer number of female respondents indicated that men are likely to be unwilling to engage with support services.
“Women are often more likely to seek help than men for health issues including things like going to the GP,” he said.
“So it could be that men are less willing to come forward (over eating disorders).”
Dr Sheehan said the report also underlined the long-term cost of such disorders.
These range from the physical health of the person involved through to the economic cost in terms of time off from school and work as well as the fall-out for concerned family members.
Dr Sheehan said the worry caused by a young person’s eating disorder can be very traumatic for parents.
The report was compiled through surveys, conducted on an anonymous basis, with those attending EDCC services.
On average, around 70 people are now attending weekly support services at the centre which opened a decade ago.
Until it began operations, those seeking specialist help for eating disorders faced having to attend overseas clinics.
A key finding of the EDCC report is the importance of early intervention for those who are battling an eating disorder.
“The message is very clear – seek help and talk to someone if you are worried about a possible eating disorder,” Dr Sheehan said.
The EDCC has been supported by Tanaiste Simon Coveney and Junior Health Minister Jim Daly.
Research has indicated that, as a side-effect of spiralling weight issues in modern society, the number and severity of eating disorders are increasing dramatically.
The HSE are hoping to roll-out dedicated child and adolescent eating disorder teams nationwide.
Special support hubs will be established in Dublin, Cork and Galway with smaller support centres in Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny, Sligo and Cavan.