Eating disorders cost the UK £9.4 billion in 2020 – we need to invest in a nationwide strategy to tackle this crisis

Hope Virgo

4 min read

The report is calling on the government to develop a UK-wide eating disorder strategy, with a timeline for implementation, adequate ring fenced funding and investment in research.

2020 saw a year like no other as the whole world was engulfed by Covid-19. The fear, losing loved ones, the uncertainty, isolation… I could go on. It won’t be a surprise to any of you that we saw a rapid increase in individuals struggling with eating disorders. But the fact is, before Covid-19, we had a crisis around eating disorder treatment.  

Blaming Covid-19 for the way treatment is, is no longer an option.   

Eating disorders are a growing problem and whilst there are more conversations around food, exercise and health, there still remains a vicious cycle between the lack of awareness, lack of training, lack of funding, lack of research, and dangerous consumeristic messaging from society and the government.

A report written by myself, Dr Agnes Ayton and Professor Gerome Breen as part of the work the Hearts Minds and Genes Coalition for Eating Disorders calculated that the cost of eating disorders on the UK in 2020 was a staggering £9.4 Billion. When we break this down we seen huge costs across society from the loss of productivity (£4.8billion), to healthcare costs (£1.7billion), and carers costs (£1.1billion).

The NHS do an amazing job with the resources they have, but unless we invest there won’t be NHS services for eating disorders

Labour MP, John McDonnell said, “This report shows clearly that in addition to the tragic levels of human suffering caused by eating disorders, there is such a huge economic cost, which demonstrates even further the need for a comprehensive and urgent programme of action from government.” 

Liberal Democrat MP, Wera Hobhouse said, “There is something very wrong with the way eating disorders are treated in the UK and this report provides another angle of their devastating cost.

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, and we know that early intervention and access to specialist treatment saves lives. It breaks my heart that in 2021 so many are suffering. It is important that focus must turn to early intervention and prevention with adequate funding and services. eating disorders cause untold human suffering. 

As the chair of the APPG on Eating Disorders I fully support Hope’s ongoing campaigning on this issue which affects so many people’s lives.” 

The public understanding of eating disorders has improved in recent years as more people are speaking out, but it still seems to take a high profile person being affected by an eating disorder to bring it out in to the open, when the reality is, these stories and reports are a stark reminder of what is going on daily across the country in tens of thousands of homes. 

Professor Gerome Breen said, “This report underlies the massive impact eating disorders have across all age groups. We’ve been able to do some research that indicates tractable biology which could form the basis of novel therapeutics, but increased research funding is needed to develop these.”

We are told time and time again that the funding is there, promised that there is a plan in place, but when we look at eating disorders across the country there seems to be a real disconnect in these promises and what we are seeing on the ground. The NHS do an amazing job with the resources they have, but unless we invest there won’t be NHS services for eating disorders!

This is why the report is calling on the government to develop a UK-wide eating disorder strategy, with a timeline for implementation and adequate resources; including ring fenced funding and investment in research. To go alongside this, it is essential that we focus on early intervention from the introduction of eating disorder screening to take place across all health care and corporate settings to eating disorder services working with schools, key stakeholders and the government to develop a whole school approach to eating disorders.

With changes like this, we will not only save money for the NHS, but also save lives. Are we really going to wait until we lose generation after generation before we act on this?


Hope Virgo is a mental health campaigner and author and Founder of #DumpTheScales.

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She is the writer and editor of The Latest News. She began press writer when she is 20 years old.