Eating disorder manifesto and toolkit for schools launched to tackle surge in cases

Watch: New eating disorder manifesto and school toolkit launched

The first ever UK eating disorders manifesto has been launched alongside a school toolkit to help pupils and tackle the ongoing hidden mental health epidemic.

MPs and campaigners have come together to address the fact that there has been a huge rise in eating disorder cases during the pandemic, along with delays in treatment and avoidable chronic long-term illness and loss of life.

There was a four-fold increase in young people being hospitalised with eating disorders, according to the NHS health survey 2019, and 1,946 were still waiting for treatment at the end of March 2022, more than three times more than in March 2020.

Calls to the government in the new manifesto include adequate funding to meet the demand and offer timely treatment, support for the roll-out of a nurses' toolkit in both secondary and primary schools, and a strategy to address the huge rise in those affected.

Read more: Signs your child has an eating disorder and how to help them

eating disorder manifesto
An eating disorder school toolkit will empower frontline staff to talk about the illnesses with young people. (Getty Images)

To help ensure that children, young people, and families get the right support, Hope Virgo, author and founder of #DumpTheScales, who is campaigning to treat eating disorders as serious mental illnesses rather than being about body image, has developed the 'School Nursing Toolkit' with the School and Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA) and other experts.

The toolkit aims to empower qualified, trained and skilled professionals, including registered nurses/midwives and specialist community public health nurses, who have access to robust supervision, to talk about eating disorders.

“We have waited for decades for eating disorders to be taken seriously and what we have been left with is people unable to access treatment, and people dying of a treatable illness," says Virgo.

"We need the government to step up and tackle this epidemic as a matter of urgency because no one should be dying of an eating disorder. The manifesto and school nurses' toolkit is the next step in ensuring the government steps up because enough is enough.”

The toolkit includes clear information on how to speak to a child or young person who is struggling, what to do if they can't open up, what not to say to someone with an eating disorder, suggested conversation starters/phrases, confidentiality across different ages, and general information on understanding the illnesses and what steps to take to help.

Read more: Most parents worried about kids' mental health: How to spot if your child's struggling

Eating disorder manifesto. (Getty Images)
Early intervention is key to treating eating disorders. (Getty Images)

Virgo explains, “I have seen first-hand this huge rise in people of all ages developing eating disorders over the last few years. We know that whilst eating disorders don’t discriminate on age that we had a place in schools to offer some support. We developed a school nurse toolkit to do just this. To help empower others to have these conversations and to help get in there early.”

The free toolkit is now live and available on the SAPHNA website. You just have to click on the QR code or scan with your phone to complete and submit the request form, before it lands in your inbox shortly after.

Sharon White OBE, CEO of SAPHNA, adds, “Our early help can and does make a significant difference to the impact this awful illness has, therefore, we are determined to co-produce a resource to help us deliver excellence in our care."

Many eating disorders develop during adolescence, with cases of anorexia seen in some children as young as six. However, it's not unusual for people to develop them in later life too, with some research reporting cases in women in their 70s too. Outside of the stereotypical age bracket, people are less likely to be diagnosed due to a lack of understanding and awareness.

Read more: Eating disorders need to be seen as an emergency, says campaigner Hope Virgo

An awareness video supported by Instagram has also been launched to promote the new manifesto and toolkit, with familiar faces and experts sharing tips to get the nation talking about eating disorders.

For support, contact eating disorder charity Beat's helplines, which are open 365 days a year from 9am–midnight during the week, and 4pm–midnight on weekends and bank holidays, or via its one-to-one web chat.

You can also sign Virgo's campaign to #dumpthescales campaign, which she set up after being rejected for treatment because she 'wasn't thin enough'.