In 2021-2022, the NHS faced a record 29,000 hospital admissions in England related to a primary or secondary diagnosis of an eating disorder, almost a quarter more than the previous year’s 23,500.
The total included a record 2,387 men who received medical attention, a 30% increase.
Experts said it was “worrisome” that so many patients get to the point where hospital treatment is needed.
Tom Quinn, director of external relations for the charity Beat, said: “Hospital care is usually reserved for the most unhealthy people, and so this data suggests that people are not getting quality care in their area fast enough.
“Also worrying is the fact that more men and boys are hospitalized with an eating disorder.
“There is a misconception that eating disorders only affect women and girls, which can prevent men and boys from seeking support and increase feelings of guilt and shame.”
Eating disorders cost the UK economy £9.4bn a year, according to a report by accountants Ernst and Young published last year.
Data released by NHS Digital shows hospital admissions have more than tripled in the past decade.
Approximately 8,835 patients with a primary or secondary diagnosis of an eating disorder received inpatient treatment in 2012–2013.
In recent years, the number of applicants has grown steadily, with 16,023 in 2017-2018, 18,633 in 2018-2019 and 21,048 in 2019-2020.
Mr Quinn said the pandemic has had a huge impact on people with eating disorders, many of whom have felt stressed and isolated.
He added: “At Beat, we provided three times as many support sessions from April 2021 to March 2022 compared to pre-pandemic.
“However, hospital admissions and referrals for eating disorders were on the rise prior to the pandemic, and it is important to remember that there are often multiple factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder.
“For example, we know that genetics can play a role, as well as environmental factors such as grief or abuse, low self-esteem or negative body image.
“The government must provide enough funds to meet the growing demand for eating disorder treatment and ensure that all funds promised for the treatment of eating disorders reach the front line.”
Individual figures showed an alarming increase in hospital admissions among children and young people.
Ollie Parker, head of external relations at YoungMinds, said Covid, the need to catch up on education and the cost of living crisis have affected young people’s mental health.
“From conversations with young people and our own research, we know that the last year has been one of the most difficult for young people,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the numbers came as no surprise after a series of similar statistics in recent months highlighting the mental health emergency of young people.”
Mr. Parker warned that without government support, professionals in the field “can only offer band-aids.”
He said: “We are calling for more resources for the NHS so that young people, including those with eating disorders, can get help quickly.
“Last year, the government announced a 10-year mental health plan. We look forward to the Prime Minister’s renewed support for this plan to set out how access to early treatment will be improved and to have young people at its core.”
To contact Beat Support, call 0808 801 0677 or click here.
“BMI rules meant I had to wait for treatment”
Kathy Scott was admitted to the hospital at the age of 17 after a three-year battle with an eating disorder.
As a teenager, she became increasingly body-conscious and began restricting her food intake, exercising excessively, and obsessing over diets.
Kathy is now 24 years old and recovering. But she said it took too long for her to receive treatment due to body mass index (BMI) benchmarks that limited access.
She said: “For a long time I couldn’t get anything but basic counseling because my BMI didn’t indicate that I had anorexia.
“Eventually I reached this extremely low weight, which meant I was eligible for inpatient support, but by then I had three years of an eating disorder and it was much worse than it would have been if there had been early intervention.” .
Kathy stayed in the hospital for just over a year, receiving treatments such as dietary support and group therapy. She had a meal plan and was monitored during and after each meal.
Kathy, who lives in Berkshire and works on product development in London, said the increase in hospital admissions is worrying but could also mean more people are accessing support.
She added: “Waiting lists have always been very long and if more people are allowed in, that suggests there could be more places available.”