Experts Alarmed By ‘Worrying’ Trend Of Food Avoidance

Most toddlers and children will experience a phase of selective eating.

However, a charity has raised concerns about a significant increase in an eating disorder with similar symptoms that lead individuals to avoid specific foods.

This week marks Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 26 – March 3), and the charity Beat is working to raise awareness of a lesser-known illness.

The charity has noted a significant increase in calls regarding severe conditions over the past five years. They are calling on NHS leaders to prioritize specialized treatment for the eating disorder ARFID. Beat explained avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) as a condition where individuals steer clear of specific foods, limit the amount they eat, or do both.

When individuals have avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), their picky eating habits prevent them from getting the necessary nutrients and energy.

An eating disorder charity reported that its helpline received over 2,000 phone calls about the issue last year, which accounted for 10% of its total calls and was an increase from 295 calls five years ago.

Indications involve being a highly selective eater who might react strongly to smells, tastes, textures, or colors of foods.

Individuals may experience high levels of fear towards new foods and concern about potential negative encounters with unfamiliar foods.

It’s crucial to tackle the issue promptly to prevent it from becoming profoundly rooted and more challenging to manage.

During the pandemic lockdowns, disorders in children rose by nearly 50%. The NHS emphasizes the importance of enhancing care for individuals with eating disorders, including ARFID, through investments, tailored support, and training to establish community eating disorder teams across England. 

In some situations, individuals may not recognize their hunger or have a poor appetite compared to others. For some individuals, eating might feel like a task rather than a pleasurable experience, leading to difficulty consuming adequate food.

In 2018, Beat’s Helpline received 295 calls for support with ARFID, which accounted for 2% of total calls. In 2023, the number of calls increased to 2054, accounting for 10% of all calls for the year, a cause for significant concern.