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Funding vital research into eating disorders

Eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses that start in adolescence and affect 15 per cent of young women and up to 4 per cent of young men.

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​As part of a continued commitment to funding research into child and young adult mental health, the Medical Research Foundation awarded over £500,000 earlier this year to three new research projects focused on increasing understanding of the biological, psychological and social causes of eating disorders, such as anorexia, so that better prevention techniques and treatments can be developed in future.

The number of people being diagnosed and entering in-patient treatment for eating disorders in England alone has increased at an average rate of 7% per annum since 2009. Whilst this may, in some part, be a result of increased understanding about eating disorders within families and better self-referral, it is also a result of increasing incidence fuelled by the internet and social media.

Despite the detrimental impact on the lives of those affected and their families, there is a comparatively small proportion of UK research focused on understanding the drivers of eating disorders.

Dr Angela Hind, the Medical Research Foundation’s Director, said: “There is very little UK-led research on the causes of eating disorders and self-harm and yet they are having an increasing and devastating impact on young people and their families. We hope this research will not only enable us to understand the causes of these conditions but will lead to larger-scale studies that will ultimately result in better targeted treatments.”

Our pioneering researchers investigating the causes of eating disorders are:

  • Dr Nadia Micali at University College London, who is studying the role that metabolism and growth plays in the development of eating disorders. Her project will explore if specific changes in metabolic function, appetite and growth factors lead to the onset of eating disorders. Identifying risk factors for adolescent and young adult eating disorders could lead to larger and more detailed studies in future.
  • Dr Sylvane Desrivieres at Kings College London, who aims to understand how dysfunctional eating behaviours develop, in order to identify factors which may occur before the appearance of an eating disorder. Using an existing cohort of 2,000 young people studied from the age of 14, Sylvane’s team will identify possible risk factors involved in the development of eating disorders.
  • Dr Kate Tchanturia also at Kings College London, who will study adolescent anorexia nervosa patients with autism spectrum disorder symptoms when they first present for treatment. Given the overlap in symptoms of these conditions, autism spectrum disorder symptoms may affect anorexia nervosa recovery. The research aims to identify vulnerable patients, at an early stage, who may be unlikely to respond to current treatment, and could shape individualised support and treatment strategies.