Soaring numbers of children are being treated for serious eating disorders in Sussex.

Celebrity role models and airbrushed images are being blamed for the trebling of under-18s seeking help in the county.

A girl as young as nine is among the 136 battling conditions including anorexia and bulimia.

The real number of cases is believed to be much higher because the figures only refer to those who have been referred for specialist help.

Figures obtained by The Argus reveal Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust treated 136 under 18-year-olds between April 2012 and the end of March.

This includes more than 20 aged between 11 and 14.

The trust dealt with 50 referrals the year before.

The rise has been blamed on several factors, including children's exposure to images of ultra-thin models and celebrities on TV and on the internet.

Spotting signs Medics also believe there is a growing awareness of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and cases are being identified more quickly.


Sue Kelly, a nurse specialist at the trust's child and adolescent team at Chalkhill Hospital in Haywards Heath said: “There is certainly a greater knowledge about disorders.

“Things that might have been dismissed as 'faddy eating' a decade ago is now being spotted as a sign of a potentially serious problem.

“Unfortunately there are still a lot of media images which give unrealistic expectations of how people should look and do not take into account people are built in different shapes and sizes.”

Chalkhill has an inpatient unit and the team also provides intensive support for children and their families at home.

Lucy Fenneymore, 20, from Yapton, near Arundel, fell ill with anorexia when she was 16 and was admitted to hospital weighing just over five stone.

She has gone on to make a full recovery and is now studying English at Chichester University.

“It is difficult to say exactly what leads people to developing eating disorders because everyone is different, but I don't think the images that are out there particularly help.

“Some people can suffer low esteem or be perfectionists and things then take over.

“In my case it was all about control. I believed I was fat and never saw myself as thin. I felt I didn't deserve to eat.

“However I am now doing really well after treatment and looking forward to the future.

“I am moving out of home next year and that is a big step but I am ready for it.”

A spokeswoman for the eating disorders charity Beat said: “Recent studies show us there are more biological factors to eating disorders than we ever previously thought but socio-cultural factors such as the media, peer pressure, bullying and self-esteem and body image issues are now seen to affect boys, men and also younger children.”