Health Ministry denounced for handling of eating disorders

Science and Health

The Knesset Health Committee on Monday demanded that the Health Ministry establish a “national treatment plan” for dealing with the growing number of eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia and others – among girls, teenagers and even adults of both genders.

The well-publicized death two weeks ago of 35-year-old former model Karin Bauman – the daughter of the wife of veteran singer Shimi Tavori – after a more than decade-long battle with anorexia raised public awareness of the problem. Weighing as much as a small child, she died at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center from pneumonia after her condition seriously declined.

Committee chairman Shas MK Uriel Busso said that the numbers of individuals with eating disorders is catastrophic, and the issue must be prioritized by the ministry. “I will contact Health Minister Moshe Arbel and discuss it with him without delay. There must be registration and information gathering, outreach and prevention activities, planning the hospitalization system in hospitals and in the community, monitoring waiting times and training multidisciplinary personnel. We don’t have time to wait.”

Dramatic increase in number of eating disorder sufferers since COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Ehud Susser, the director of the ministry’s clinical system, said that in recent years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic – there was a dramatic and alarming increase in the number of eating disorder sufferers, mainly among teenagers, but also among the adult community. He also presented data showing that some 1,500 children and teenagers are diagnosed with eating disorders every year. But in practice, the number is estimated at between 30,000 to 40,000 sufferers; About 15% to 20% of them develop a chronic disease, and the mortality rate is five percent.

Eating disorders, one of the most common diseases in the Western world. (credit: GIL DOR)

Susser said the ministry is “well aware of the lack of treatment and rehabilitation facilities for patients with eating disorders and said that as a result, it added NIS 25 million in 2022 for community treatment, hospitalization beds and day care. But it is far from covering the needs.”

Yesh Atid MK Ron Katz, who initiated the discussion, charged that “the figures presented by the ministry shows bankruptcy in this field. It must take into account the real difficulty in the treatment protocol for those suffering from the disease.”

A speaker at the session was Adi Barkan, the modeling agent and fashion photographer who founded the Simply You association and submitted legislation to the Knesset in December almost two decades requiring all modeling agencies in Israel to use a body-mass-index exam preventing modeling agencies from representing a model unless she submits to a health test every three months and receives higher than 18.5 BMI. A decade ago, he set up the Simply-You campaign to increase awareness of the effect of the fashion industry on body self-image.

“For decades, the health authorities have been presenting the same slides with the same phony story, and only occasionally do we manage to add a few hospital beds. We are a generation late. Mothers pass this disorder on to their daughters,” he declared.

The director of the lobby to combat sexual violence, Yael Sherer, added that “eating disorders in the absolute majority of cases are the result of sexual abuse. It is a deadly psychiatric disorder. Why is the Health Ministry not collecting the data correctly?”

Tamar Eliahu, mother dealing with the disease in her family, asked “How long will I continue to come to these committees, asking the same questions over and over again. These are children who are an asset to Israeli society, and we continue to talk ourselves into knowing and not giving solutions. Will someone provide real answers?”

Lee Pinko, the mother of a woman who weighs only 28 kilos and has been suffering from anorexia for four years, concluded: “We brought her to the hospital, but she was released. If she had cancer, would they also send her home? Are we waiting for another case like that of Karin Bauman?”