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Australia in ‘public health crisis’ as eating disorders cost $67 billion

Australia is in the midst of a “public health crisis” as the number of people with eating disorders increases, costing the country $67 billion a year.

Feb 29, 2024, updated Feb 29, 2024
Rsearchers say a new drug being trailled could be a game-chamnger for improving the health of people with obesity. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Rsearchers say a new drug being trailled could be a game-chamnger for improving the health of people with obesity. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

That’s the verdict from charity the Butterfly Foundation, which says 1.1 million Australians are living with an eating disorder, representing an increase of 21 per cent since 2012.

That equates to about 4.5 per cent of the country’s population.

The economic and social cost of eating disorders was $66.9 billion in 2023, or 36 per cent more than in 2012, a report by the foundation found.

Despite the mammoth cost, government funding was yet to keep pace, Butterfly Foundation chief executive Jim Hungerford said.

The charity is calling on the government to commit $12 million a year to fighting eating disorders.

“We call on the government to recognise that eating disorders are a public health crisis that demand urgent investment,” Dr Hungerford said.

“We need universal prevention programs in schools, sporting groups, workplaces, and online environments to promote healthy body image and reduce eating disorder risk at the earliest opportunity.

“Butterfly has not received any government funding for the health promotion work we have been doing in the Australian community for more than 20 years, and now is the time for government to step up so that we can stop Australians paying a high price for eating disorders.”

Eating disorders cost the federal government $4.7 billion a year, the report says.

Women were also most heavily burdened by eating disorders, being twice as likely as men to experience one.

The cost of eating disorders equated to almost $60,700 a person, with people aged between 15 and 19 more likely than others to experience them, the report says.

Chantel Le Cross said their eating disorder cost them 20 per cent of their annual income.

However, the mental strain was even more significant than the financial burden.

“Financial barriers shouldn’t be the reason people aren’t able to access the support and treatment they deserve, especially when they are footing the bill for the lifelong cost of an eating disorder,” Chantel said.

“It’s a condition that infiltrates every aspect of someone’s life that they have to consistently manage, meaning less time being present with your family, less capacity at work, less bandwidth for your friends and less time spent just existing.”

Almost 1300 people died from eating disorders in Australia in 2023, while one in 10 experience an eating disorder in their lifetime.

People in regional Australia spent an average of $975 each on travel to get treatment for their eating disorder.

The report, Paying the Price, was produced in collaboration with Deloitte.

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