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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 February 2008, 16:50 GMT
'Eating disorders challenge all'
With thousands in Wales affected by an eating disorder, Assembly Members are examining how to improve treatment and awareness. Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins explains why she believes decisive action is needed.
Teenage boy suffering from anorexia nervosa
Research shows one in five with eating disorders die as a result

We live an age where the pressures of a reality TV and celebrity role-model society bear heavy on us all, not least on those who are most susceptible to such pressures, namely young people.

It appears that social perceptions of such illnesses remain a taboo subject for many.

But I am in no doubt that the magnitude of the issue is such that our assembly and government must act decisively.

To put eating disorders into context, it is estimated that there are around 56,000 sufferers in Wales and, according to the National Institute for Eating Disorders, one in five die as a result of their illness.

According to the mental health charity Mind, as many as one woman in twenty will have eating patterns that are cause for concern, most will be aged between 14 to 25.

There is no dedicated residential treatment centre in Wales specifically for sufferers of eating disorders.

Whilst I recognise that community provision does exist, those who reach a more critical stage of illness have no option but to seek private care in England.

There is no national strategy in Wales on eating disorders at the moment, and in order to rectify this I deemed it appropriate to establish a cross-party committee on eating disorders at the National Assembly for Wales.

Bethan Jenkins AM
Bethan Jenkins wants a national strategy to tackle eating disorders

The committee agreed that a national strategy was needed and, further, will launch a declaration of objectives during (this week's) Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

The aims and objectives include a commitment to compiling a comprehensive analysis of eating disorders in Wales, including current provision and support so that we are fully aware of the specific challenges we face.

The cross-party group is also committed to raising awareness of eating disorders and calls for proactive campaigns in schools and universities and throughout society.

We also recognise the need for increased training in the health sector to equip frontline staff with the skills to identify and deal with patients effectively.

One of the aims for us in Wales must be to establish a specialist residential unit here, so that sufferers are not forced to seek residential care outside Wales and in the private sector.

I am clear that any national strategy will need to tackle this problem on many fronts, not least in reversing current mis-conceptions.

Only 1% of young people recently surveyed by charity b-eat felt they could talk to their parents about eating disorders.

The challenge we face affects us all.

As we take the first tentative steps in addressing this issue in Wales, I am hopeful that we can conclude with a just outcome for those who need our care and support.


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