Dietary disorders are eating at too many of us - Assistant Minister McBride - Op-Ed

In recent months a national conversation on eating disorders and disordered eating has come to the fore. I hope it stays there.

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

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In recent months a national conversation on eating disorders and disordered eating has come to the fore. I hope it stays there.

Eating disorders impact roughly a million Australians. From our classrooms to our boardrooms, from our sports fields to our stages. They are mental health conditions that don't look a particular way or only affect a particular group.

This issue cannot fade to the back of our minds for months at a time until the next confronting television special is broadcast, or newspaper front page is printed.

It is not just the next headline of a 24-hour news cycle for those living with an eating disorder, or their loved ones, carers, parents, friends. It's a major mental health condition with lifelong impacts.

But it's not just eating disorders that are misunderstood. The vast complexity of disordered eating is largely not understood.

Too little is known about the causes or cures for eating disorders. We must continue to research and evaluate, because it is through this investigation and robust analysis that the best solutions will be found.

And while it might be easy to push this conversation aside, it must be had for the simple fact that eating disorders are among the most lethal mental health disorders.

This conversation must be thoughtful and factual, making a departure from the sensationalism that has plagued the topic in the past. It is far too important for it to be co-opted by clickbait and too large to turn anyone away.

We need a conversation that reveals the full extent of disordered eating. We must find solutions for all of those who struggle with eating based ill health.

And while across the political landscape we will have our disagreements, I fundamentally believe that it is through a constructive big-tent dialogue that we will find our best path forward.

Work is underway - including investment in seven new community based residential eating disorder centres.

We also know that historically, eating disorders have received the lowest research investment of any mental illness. People with lived experience continue to say that access to care is patchy, inconsistent, difficult to navigate and at times detrimental.

To bridge the knowledge gap, we are funding the Australian Eating Disorders Research and Translation Centre at the University of Sydney. The Centre, operating under the InsideOut Institute, encourages researchers and health care provides to work hand-in-hand to turn research into sound policy and practice.

And while support is delivered, we need to make sure that any interventions are safe, appropriate and most importantly properly evaluated and effective.

It is about building an evidence base, understanding what works and what does not, listening to those with lived experience and identifying the underlying causes of disordered eating. With that approach, we will see real change.


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