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Eating disorders: £4 million committed to new research

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UK research funders - including the Medical Research Foundation - have pledged £4.25 million towards new research into eating disorders.

Eating disorders impact an estimated 1.25 million people in the UK. But despite the prevalence and severity of eating disorders, research funding is extremely limited.

The ‘New Collaborations to support Eating Disorders Research’ funding opportunity - which is now open for applications - aims to address this chronic lack of funding.

Last year the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Eating Disorders published their ‘Breaking the Cycle’ report, which was compiled by Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity. The report revealed a ‘vicious cycle of underfunding’, whereby a chronic lack of eating disorder research funding has led to limited researchers and facilities, and therefore fewer research publications which leaves the field ill-equipped to compete for funding.

Earlier this year, the Medical Research Council (MRC) brought together several funders, academics, people with lived experience and Beat to respond to these concerns. The £4.25 million grant is a joint investment from the MRC, the Medical Research Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

The grant aims to enhance our understanding of the biological, psychological and social causes of eating disorders, to help improve treatments and prevention strategies. It will do this by increasing collaboration between researchers in the field, and involving researchers who usually focus on conditions other than eating disorders.

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Angela Hind outside Dr Angela Hind

Dr Angela Hind, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Foundation, said: "Eating disorders have grown in scale and severity during the pandemic, yet research investment continues to languish behind the already limited funding available for other mental health conditions.

"We’re thrilled to be co-funding these new collaborations, which are part of the Medical Research Foundation’s long-term commitment to tackling eating disorders through research. We hope this new joint investment breaks the cycle of underfunding in eating disorders research, and most importantly, that discoveries from these collaborations help to improve the lives of people with eating disorders."

David Pan, MRC Interim Head of Programme, Mental Health said: ‘MRC is delighted to be partnering with MRF, ESRC, NIHR and AHRC for this call aimed at mobilising researchers from the medical, biological, social and behavioural sciences as well as the arts and humanities. By doing this we hope to initiate novel interdisciplinary collaborations to support Eating Disorders Research and increase capacity in the field, leading to multi-faceted understanding, prevention and treatment of eating disorders across demographics.’

Wera Hobhouse, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eating Disorders said: "There is a vicious cycle of underfunding in eating disorder research. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eating Disorders has been calling for greater investment to attract and retain researchers across the UK. Today's funding call is an important step forward. Increasing research into eating disorders is crucial to improving our understanding of these complex mental illnesses. I'd like to thank my fellow APPG members and Beat for their ongoing dedication to making lives better for those with eating disorders."

Beat’s Chief Executive, Andrew Radford said:
"We warmly welcome this joint investment from leading UK funders, with its focus on helping to break the cycle of underfunding and promoting research with underserved communities. This is a fantastic result and an important step forward for eating disorder research in the UK.

"We’d also like to thank the members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on eating disorders, as well as the campaigners who have spoken out on this issue. Now we must ensure that this momentum is maintained and built on over the long term, until UK eating disorder research has the capacity to achieve the breakthroughs in knowledge and understanding that we need to beat eating disorders."

Find out more on our funding call page.