Difficulties Faced By University Students With Eating Disorders

69% of those surveyed had difficulties accessing treatment


With hundreds of thousands of young people leaving home for a new life at university at this time of year Beat – the UK’s leading eating disorder charity and the largest of its kind in the world has carried out a survey of people who had suffered with an eating disorder and had been to university.


The results were disturbing:-

69% had difficulties accessing treatment

32% were diagnosed with an eating disorder after moving away to university

18% had to drop out of university because of their eating disorder

39% had to take a break from their studies

30% had to wait longer than 18 weeks to begin NHS treatment when first diagnosed

52% said their university was not taking action to prevent eating disorders and support sufferers and 60% said universities should be raising awareness to help prevent the illness taking hold


The survey has formed the basis of an awareness raising campaign at universities to ensure student support services have the information they need to help and support students with an eating disorder.


“Not once at University had anybody questioned my health or given me any help or guidance.  If I’d wanted to go and talk to someone I would have been completely at a loss where to go or who could help me.  This resulted in my condition worsening and I ended up dropping out of Uni completely”. 
Leah, 21, Wiltshire


“There was very little in the way of help and support at Uni.  My treatment involved a lot of travelling whilst at the same time juggling my studies and this made my final year of university an incredible struggle” said Alex (male – Lancaster University)


“I wasn’t prepared for the emphasis on food in social events.  I wasn’t able to eat out or have shared flat meals.  I became incredibly isolated.  My flatmates thought of me as weird or odd and rejected me.  This just fed the illness.  I did make a few friends but it turned out that a lot of them had eating disorders too.  It would be great if there had been people around who’d be there to listen and not judge me.”  Hannah, 20, Newcastle University.


“We know there are a number of risk factors when young people go to university such as moving away from home and living independently, academic pressures, making new friends.  The average age for developing an eating disorder is 12-20 so this can be a very vulnerable time for some people” said Beat.


“We know from research and what students have told us they often turn to their friends to talk about their problems in the first instance.  We have therefore created a leaflet which outlines ways friends can support people they know with an eating disorder and help them get the support they need.  The sooner someone gets the help, support and treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full recovery.  We are contacting universities and engaging with students to raise awareness and understand of these serious mental illnesses.


“As the survey shows, if support and care for eating disorder sufferers is not provided, it can lead to significant issues such as dropping out or taking a break which has a financial, emotional and educational impact on a young person’s future.  Young lives are being disrupted at crucial stages in their development with loss of education, hindering career prospects and premature death. 

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.  One in five of the most seriously affected will die prematurely.”



About Beat

Beat is the UK’s leading nationwide charity supporting people affected by eating disorders and campaigning on their behalf.

Over 1.6 million men and women of all ages and backgrounds in the UK are affected by eating disorders.

We aim to change the way people think about eating disorders, challenge the stigma that people with eating disorders face and campaign for better services and treatments.

Beat provides helplines for adults and young people, a UK wide network of self help and support groups and online support including information, message boards and live chat.

We also provide expert knowledge, education and training to health and social care professionals and support and encourage research into eating disorders.

Beat’s vision is simple: eating disorders will be beaten.