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Nearly one in five women screened positive for possible eating disorder

The Health Survey for England found that 19% of women aged sixteen and over screened positive for a possible eating disorder1 when questioned on their relationship with food2, in 2019.

Around one in eight men (13%) also screened positive for a possible eating disorder in the same timeframe. For women, prevalence was highest amongst those aged under 35 (28% of those aged between 16 and 24, and 27% of those aged between 25 and 34), before declining in line with age.  For men, prevalence was highest among those aged between 25 and 34 (19%), before also declining in line with age.

The Health Survey for England, 2019 monitors trends in the nation’s health and surveyed 8,205 adults and 2,095 children about a variety of topics including carers, obesity, smoking, and drinking3.

Providing unpaid care to family and friends

The 2019 report also posed questions to participants on the unpaid caring responsibilities that they might have.  These found that 17% of adults aged 16 or over reported providing unpaid help or support to at least one person with women (20%) more likely than men (14%) to provide help.

Of those providing unpaid care:

  • Over half (55%) said they had received no support in providing care, most prevalent amongst those aged 65 and over (64%)
  • Nearly one in five (19%) suffered financial difficulties due to their caring responsibility
  • Approximately one in ten (11%) reported not being in paid work due to their caring responsibilities.  This was most prevalent amongst women, and those aged 45-64.

The survey also reports annually on a core number of topics of population health and can show longer term trends in these. It found that:

Overweight and obesity4

  • 68% of men and 60% of women were overweight or obese in 2019.  This compares to 58% of men and 49% of women in 1994
  • 27% of men and 29% of women were obese in 2019.  This compares to 14% of men and 17% of women in 1994
  • Among children, 18% of boys and 13% of girls were obese.  This compares to 11% of boys and 12% of girls in 19955.


  • 18% of men and 15% of women reported that they currently smoke cigarettes.  This compares to 28% of men and 27% of women in 1994
  • Children aged between 8 and 15, were more than twice as likely to have ever tried an e-cigarette or vaping device (9%) than to have ever tried a tobacco cigarette (4%).  This compares to 19% who had ever smoked in 1997.


  • The proportion of adults with doctor-diagnosed diabetes has trebled in the last 25 years, from 3% of men and 2% of women in 1994 to 9% of men and 6% of women in 2019.


  • The proportion of adults with raised total cholesterol has decreased in the last 21 years, from 66% of men and 67% of women in 1998, to 40% of men and 45% of women in 2019.

The Health Survey for England gathers information from both adults and children and is commissioned by NHS Digital and carried out by NatCen Social Research in conjunction with UCL who co-author the report.

Read the full report

Health Survey for England, 2019

Notes to Editors

  1. An eating disorder is related to having an unhealthy attitude towards food. This can involve eating too much or too little, being obsessed with weight or body shape, changes in mood, excessive exercise, having strict habits or routines around food or purging after eating.
  2. Participants were asked whether, during the last year they:
    1. had lost more than one stone in a 3 month period
    2. had made themselves be sick because you felt uncomfortably full
    3. had worried they had lost control over how much they ate
    4. had believed themselves to be fat when others said they were too thin
    5. would have said food dominated their life

This is known as the SCOFF questionnaire, with a score of two or more yes answers providing a positive screening for a possible eating disorder. This method cannot specifically identify the eating disorder concerned and is likely to overestimate rates of eating disorders, as diagnosis requires a full clinical examination.

  1. The Health Survey for England provides information about adults aged 16 and over, and children aged 0 to 15, living in private households in England. The survey consists of an interview in person, followed by a visit from a nurse who takes a number of measurements and samples. A total of 8,205 adults (aged 16 and over) and 2,095 children (aged 0 to 15) were interviewed in the 2019 survey. 4,947 adults and 1,169 children had a nurse visit. The sample is designed to represent the whole population as accurately as possible within practical constraints, such as time and cost. Consequently, statistics based on the survey are estimates, rather than precise figures, and are subject to a margin of error. The sample who take part in the survey is weighted to provide statistics that are representative of the population. For further details see the Methods report.
  2. This has been measured using Body Mass Index (BMI) defined as weight in kilograms divided by the height in metres squared (kg/m2).  This has been used as a measure of obesity in the HSE series. BMI does not distinguish between mass due to body fat and mass due to muscular physique. It also does not take account of the distribution of fat. It has therefore been suggested that waist circumference, waist to hip ratio or waist to height ratio may be useful supplements to BMI to identify central (abdominal) obesity, which increases the health risk from being overweight. More recently, waist circumference has been identified as the most useful of these three measures of central obesity in determining health risk.
  3. The earliest comparable records for the weighing of children in the Health Survey for England are from 1995.

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Original article link: https://digital.nhs.uk/news-and-events/news/nearly-one-in-five-women-screened-positive-for-possible-eating-disorder

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