HL Deb 11 May 1995 vol 564 cc170-1

3.18 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they intend to take in the light of the increasing number of cases of eating disorders, particularly among young women.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, we have issued clear guidance to general practitioners and health authorities on the needs of this group of people. Last month we issued a handbook on child and adolescent mental health which draws attention to the prevalence of these disorders. In addition, we are funding the Eating Disorders Association and Young Minds, both of which are active in this area, and we are supporting the Medical Research Council in its research.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for what to many parents will be an encouraging reply. They are increasingly worried about, in particular, their daughters, who tend to follow the fad for being thin and imitate their role models. Can she say whether in her view there is enough guidance to parents and teachers in order for them to distinguish between what may be irritating, though relatively harmless, dieting and what may develop into a serious disorder?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the advice I have is that we should imitate my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip. To be serious, I confirm that it is a serious problem. In terms of numbers it is a very small problem, but to the families concerned it causes extreme anxiety. That is something we shall be considering in terms of the advice to GPs which we are giving out.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, does the Minister believe that the fashion magazines may be promoting very thin and sexy images which some of the young girls copy and which then lead to eating disorders?

Baroness Cumberlege

Yes, my Lords, there is a great deal of pressure on young girls today. Models like Kate Moss set an ideal that many of them try to follow.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not only a question of following the fashion that makes young people suffer from anorexia and eating disorders? Is it not true that there is considerable evidence that it is caused by stress, particularly in families where marriages break down?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, there is no single cause for this particular disorder. In fact, it is believed that genetics may have something to do with it. There are certainly social factors and individual psychological difficulties. It is possible also that there are causes within the family which encourage that kind of behaviour.

Lord Addington

My Lords, will the Government consider placing some relevant advertising to counter the number of slimming clubs which advertise on television and especially to point out to the young that there is no point in trying to achieve a certain shape if one actually knows what one will look like when an adult?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, we encourage a healthy diet and the Government put out a lot of information on that. But we are always very anxious not to be a nannying state.