A charity has expressed concern that many adults are unable to name any signs or symptoms of eating disorders other than weight loss or being thin.
Beat said it is important that people recognise the early signs of eating disorders and understand they occur across the weight spectrum, with many people remaining at a normal weight or even gaining weight.
For those who do lose weight, it is only a physical sign that appears once the mental illness is ingrained, it added.
The charity warned that lack of awareness of the early signs of an eating disorder can lead to delayed treatment and increased risk of the illness becoming more severe. Other indicators include excessive exercise, hoarding or hiding food, hair loss, constipation, fatigue and rapid changes of mood, the charity said. Beat is calling on ministers and the NHS to extend their focus on early intervention and support measures, to increase awareness of the early signs and symptoms.
It commissioned a poll which found that more than a third (34 per cent) of adults were unable to name any signs or symptoms.
The survey of more than 2,000 adults in the UK also found that, of those who gave a correct answer, three out of five (62 per cent) gave weight loss or being thin as a sign over any other.
Beat said a lack of awareness about the complex mental health issues surrounding eating disorders was further highlighted by the fact that, on average, those who gave a correct answer could only list three signs and symptoms out of a potential 68 it has identified. And four out of five (79 per cent) could not name any psychological symptom such as low confidence and self-esteem or a distorted perception of weight or body shape, which usually appear first.
Beat chief executive Andrew Radford said: “This research has showed us that in the UK many people still do not know how to identify an eating disorder in its early stages.
“These results are worrying because we know lack of awareness can stop sufferers getting the treatment they desperately need as soon as possible.
“Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and when people are treated quickly after falling ill, they are much more likely to have a fast and sustained recovery.”
The findings are being released to mark the beginning of Eating Disorders Awareness Week.