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Treatment of the malnutrition usually reverses this problem but difficulties can remain.
Additionally, health complications such as heart, kidney and gastro-intestinal problems frequently occur and death often follows.
Around 90,000 are currently receiving treatment for some sort of eating disorder.
But these are strict medical diagnoses: recent reports estimate that there are literally tens of thousands of people whose lives revolve painfully around the issues of weight, eating and their control of what they eat.
Now, some people will argue that the desire for ultra-thinness is nothing new.
The fashion industry itself has long been criticised for using very skinny models and the Spanish government has actually legislated against the use of models with a Body Mass Index of under 18 (18.5 to 24.9 is deemed to be healthy), out of fear that making such extremes of thinness fashionable will lead insecure teenagers and young women towards anorexia or bulimia.
She wasn’t by any means overweight — she wore a size 12 — but most of her friends were a little thinner, squeezing their slender hips into sizes 10s and 8s and Anna decided to emulate them.
A recent report into 600 young people with eating disorders found that only one per cent of children felt they could talk to their parents about their eating-related concerns.
Meanwhile, 92 per cent of the children felt they couldn’t tell anyone at all — except that now they can tell other sufferers about their feelings on the social networking sites which have become central to the lives of millions of teens.
Can you imagine a website which gave you precise instructions as to how to set about getting cancer: smoke 60 a day, don’t exercise, eat loads of red fatty meat, make a point of ignoring any lumps that you might find in your breasts?
It would, I assume, be immediately shut down by the Department of Health. I got to 3pm with only 200 cals, then I was practically forced to eat cake and stuff so as not to cause suspicion. I hate this.’ Another girl offers a tip to curb your need to eat: ‘I love to eat ice.’Yet another posting in the early afternoon, she tells her fellow anorexics: ‘So far, I have had a cup of tea, hoping to keep it that way.’ One more bemoans the arrival of her period: ‘I feel so bloated, water weight has added a devastating 1lb to 3lb.’ And so it goes on.