Published on 6 July 2022

Concern many people living with the condition losing weight by avoiding necessary insulin doses.

Two MPs have launched an inquiry into eating disorders in type 1 diabetes amid concerns that people with the condition often avoid or restrict administering their insulin, as a means to lose weight.

Approximately 400,000 people in the UK live with the autoimmune condition type 1 diabetes.

Of those people, studies show that between 8% and 36% also experience some form of eating disorder, that could be around 144,000 people in the UK.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May, who herself was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2012, launched the campaign with Sir George Howarth MP, who is Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes.

Sir George said: “On 8 June 2022, Theresa May MP and I launched a new parliamentary inquiry into type 1 diabetes and eating disorders (T1DE), a very serious but relatively unknown condition. The purpose of the inquiry is to raise awareness of this serious condition and put forward recommendations on how to improve services and support those with T1DE.”

People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day and closely manage their blood glucose levels.

Viewers of television soap Coronation Street may recently have seen this issue portrayed as part of a storyline involving the character, Summer.

A person injecting themselves.

People living with type 1 diabetes require daily insulin injections (pictured). 

Eating disorders can be life-threatening for people living with type 1 diabetes and puts them at risk of multiple health complications, including problems with the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, eyes, nerves, gums and feet.

Severe insulin restriction can also result in a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), where the body is forced to break down fat for energy, becoming dangerously acidic if left unchecked. This can require emergency hospitalisation. In severe cases, type 1 diabetes can be fatal.

As type 1 diabetes and food are intrinsically linked, with people often counting carbohydrates, reading food labels and having a detailed awareness of the role of food in their body, living with type 1 diabetes can put people at heightened risk of developing an eating disorder.

Yet type 1 diabetes is a largely unique and misunderstood condition because the symptoms often hold few similarities to other eating disorders. Symptoms can include an increase in average blood glucose or erratic levels, frequent episodes of DKA and insulin restriction, which are all largely unique to living with type 1 diabetes.

Whilst people with other eating disorders such as anorexia can often experience a drastic weight reduction and low body mass index (BMI), many people with type 1 diabetes remain in a “healthy” BMI range despite being severely unwell.

Consequently many people are not recognised as living with type 1 diabetes until they are hospitalised through DKA or experience problems with their health later in life. This means there could be countless other people with type 1 diabetes who are not formally diagnosed and receiving the proper treatment.

The inquiry will be hearing from experts in academia, the NHS, the charity sector and most importantly, those who have been personally impacted by type 1 diabetes.

Outside of the Houses of Parliament in London.

The Houses of Parliament (pictured) where an inquiry has been launched into eating disorders in type 1 diabetes. 

Sir George, Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes, said: “We see this as an important step towards better understanding this serious condition and, we hope, to make suggestions as to how those experiencing it can be helped more effectively.”

Theresa May said: ‘Living with diabetes doesn’t change what you can do but it does take some adjusting to. For those with type 1 diabetes, it must be particularly challenging which is why we need to raise awareness of the issue; better understand the causes and help identify all those who might be struggling with this very difficult and upsetting condition.”

Several evidence sessions will take place throughout the summer, to set out ambitious recommendations to ensure the NHS and healthcare system is better equipped to tackle the complexities of living with type 1 diabetes and an eating disorder.

Giving evidence in this inquiry is Bournemouth University PhD student Ariella Thompson, who said: “As someone living with type 1 diabetes, who has struggled with disordered eating, and who also researches in this area, I'm intimately aware of how difficult living with type 1 diabetes and an eating disorder can be.

“My aim in talking about my experiences has always been to help other people who might be struggling. I'm pleased to provide evidence to this inquiry which provides an important opportunity to increase understanding of a complicated and life-threatening condition at the highest levels.

“Ultimately, I hope this inquiry can lead to improved outcomes for the people with type 1 diabetes and eating disorders who need it most.”

Read more about type 1 diabetes
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