Doctors find third eating disorder

A third type of eating disorder that could affect the lives of many thousands of women, impairing their work and relationships, is starting to be identified, according to a study published today.

The condition, binge-eating disorder, may be behind severe obesity and alcohol abuse. It joins anorexia and bulimia as new and growing costs on the health services and its importance should not be underestimated, the report says.

Cases of anorexia are doubling every 10 years with 200,000 people in Britain, mostly young women, suffering from it or its close relative, bulimia. The estimated cost to the NHS is pounds 4.5m a year.

Richard West, author of Eating Disorders, Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, from the Office of Health Economics, says the disorder involves bingeing alone, without compensating by vomiting or taking laxatives.

Mr West says that its importance should not be trivialised. It is thought to be associated with 'impairment in work and social functioning, general psychopathology (mental health), a history of drug/alcohol abuse, severe obesity and treatment for emotional problems'.

The booklet says about 70,000 people in the UK suffer from anorexia nervosa, the condition in which patients starve, about 6 per cent dying. Bulimia, 'the binge-vomiting' disorder, affects about 125,000. While the average adult eats 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day, Mr West says, bulimics can take in 15,000 calories in a two or three-hour binge.

He concludes that family therapy has emerged as the most effective approach for treating anorexia in patients under 19.

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