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Eating independently: University and Eating Disorders

Of course coming to university has affected your eating habits, but for some people a lack of parental supervision results in an eating disorder that can go unnoticed. Eden Gilby asks whether Queen Mary students who are suffering with eating problems are being properly supported

Around 1.6 million people in the UK are suffering from an eating disorder. Depending on the disorder, symptoms can last for between 5-8 years and affect people of all ages. The average age of a sufferer is 12-25 but we very rarely see campaigns or outreach programs set up around schools and universities.

University is most young people’s first taste of freedom, but for some this can be dangerous. Does the lack of parental supervision and increase of independence lead to self-neglect and an increase in eating disorders amongst the student body?

It is estimated that of those with eating disorders, 10% of sufferers are anorexic, 40% are bulimic and the rest fall in to the EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) category. According to the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, it is estimated that 1 in 250 females and 1 in 2,000 males will experience anorexia nervosa, and around five times this number will suffer from bulimia nervosa. However, similarly to self-harm, it is likely that these figures are underestimated due to significant portions of sufferers not receiving help. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, and research shows that 20% of sufferers will die prematurely from the illness.

With statistics as shocking as these, it seems bizarre that eating disorders are something that the majority of people rarely have to think, let alone talk, about. They are rarely shown on TV, rarely discussed in the media, and spoken about in hushed tones between family and friends.

Should universities and student unions be doing more to help those who are suffering with eating disorders? Charity B-Eat (Beating Eating Disorders) have said that ‘‘[t]he University environment presents a number of risk factors to those who may be pre-disposed to developing an eating disorder including academic pressures, financial concerns, making new friends, moving away from home and living independently.’’

Queen Mary offer help in the form of The Advice and Counseling Service. Whether students have been undergoing treatment for years in their hometown, or have never spoken to anyone about having eating problems before, The Advice and Counseling Service offer support. The support they give is tailored completely to the student which means no one has to suffer in silence.

Something that Advice and Counseling cannot control is who chooses to seek help. Even if a new student had been receiving years of treatment in their home town, when they start university no treatment is automatically put in place. This is an area that is not controlled by the university but by the NHS and does pose some implications where patient confidentiality is concerned.

As university is so often seen as a fresh start and the beginning of an independent life, it may be confused for a time to start dealing with problems on your own. This should not be the case. Universities across the UK set up services that are on hand to help alleviate the stresses that come with being a student away from home for the first time. Although a lot more could be done to advertise services such as Advice and Counseling within Queen Mary, it will always be the responsibility of the student to make the first move.


A Guide to UK-based Free Eating Disorder Helplines by Paul at Cassiobury Court.


Visit the B-Eat website for online support:


Contact advice and counseling:


QMUL Eating Problems page:

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