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Tuesday, October 20, 1998 Published at 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK


Europe targets eating disorders

The European Commission is sponsoring research into eating disorders

Doctors around Europe are to be questioned about their attitudes to the growing problem of eating disorders.

The BBC's Shireen Wheeler on eating disorders in Europe
The European Medical Association (EMA) has got European Commission funding to set up a project on eating disorders throughout Europe.

It is preparing pamphlets for the public on eating disorders and groups which can help them and sending questionnaires to GPs to find out what they know about anorexia and bulimia, the most common eating disorders.

The aim of the project is to ensure sufferers get the right treatment.

Treatment for eating disorders varies widely across Europe. According to the EMA, large urban areas have three times the number of sufferers per population size as people living in rural areas.

It is estimated that six in 10,000 European women suffer from anorexia and 8.5 in 10,000 from bulimia and this number is rising.

It is likely to be grossly understimated, as in many areas in Europe, the problem is not recognised.

Early treatment

Vincenzo Costigliola of the EMA said: "In most countries, anorexia is not considered a major problem. In many areas, it is not recognised by GPs. We want to draw attention to the problem so treatment can begin as early as possible."

[ image: Anorexia is a growing problem in Europe]
Anorexia is a growing problem in Europe
He added that eating disorders appeared to be a low priority for drugs companies, saying none had agreed to sponsor the project.

In contrast, at least three had sponsored a previous EMA study of Alzheimer's Disease.

"The reason is they do not consider it a priority area which is why there are no specific drug treatments for it," said Mr Costigliola.

Unsuitable treatment

Dr Yves Simon of an eating disorder unit outside Brussels says some people are being treated by general psychiatric services which are "not suitable".

"They need specialist services as treatment is difficult and takes a long time," he said.

There are three eating disorder units in Belgium. At Dr Simon's unit, treatment begins with women confronting a small part of their body and trying to come to terms with their condition.

It is too difficult for them to look at their whole body in the initial stages of treatment.

People with eating disorders often think they are overweight, even if they look extremely thin to others.


Around 20% of people with anorexia die from the effects of starvation and doctors say the right treatment can save lives.

Sufferers often swing between bouts of anorexia, where food is extremely restricted, and bulimia, which includes binging and purging.

Bulimia is more common in older teenagers and young women whereas anorexia is mainly associated with the onset of adolescence and has been noted in several pre-teenage children.

The EMA says it hopes its new project will put pressure on the medical profession throughout the continent to recognise eating disorders.

Rocio Villagran, who has been treated successfully in Belgium, says it was important for her to learn why she had a problem.

"I asked myself so many whys and never had any answer," she said.

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