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Teenage anorexia campaign launched by Highgate schoolgirls is backed by Alastair Campbell

08:00 16 January 2014

Sophia Parvizi Wayne and Amber Van Dam campaign for mental health classes to be made compulsory in all schools. Picture: Polly Hancock

Sophia Parvizi Wayne and Amber Van Dam campaign for mental health classes to be made compulsory in all schools. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Two schoolgirls have launched a campaign to tackle an anorexia epidemic among teenagers by calling for awareness classes to become part of the school curriculum.

Sophia Parvizi Wayne and Amber Van Dam, 16-year-old pupils at Highgate School, have seen first-hand the effects of anorexia and are concerned by the rising number of young people suffering from eating disorders.

Describing a culture where young people are “pressured into wanting to be perfect” and a media industry obsessed with unhealthy body images and skinny models, the two friends say it is time pupils and parents were taught how to spot symptoms and help vulnerable people.

Sophia, from Highgate, lost three stone in just over a year and said the difference between diet and disorder had become blurred among her age group.

“I never wanted to be thin but I lost a lot of weight from running and developed anorexia from there,” said Sophia, now an international cross country runner for England.

“I had no clue it was happening as to begin with I was still eating, but I just wasn’t eating the amount and type of food I needed.

“I would always feel cold and tired – my body was breaking down and dying. The weight loss snowballed and I developed anorexia, becoming anxious whenever I was around food. It was like a disease.

“There’s a lot of pressure to be perfect. We have sex education and drug education, but nothing about eating disorders.”

Amber, from West Hampstead, said watching Sophia, one of her closest friends, suffer, was a shock that “opened her eyes”.

“Sophia was lucky as usually there’s only a 50 per cent chance of recovery,” she said.

“The generation that’s teaching us is detached from the issue and it’s a problem that’s escalating.”

The girls have launched an online petition calling for eating disorders and mental health to be included in the national curriculum, and have enrolled Highgate School in an Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Headteacher Adam Pettitt said the campaign was “really worthwhile”.

He said: “It’s brilliant the girls have come out and shared their story and I’m sure we’ll see more focus on mental health among young people as a result.”

The campaign has drawn support from ex-Labour spin-doctor Alastair Campbell, a well-known sufferer of depression.

He said: “It’s fantastic that Sophia and Amber are putting their heads above the parapet like this.

“I think attitudes are changing, but slowly, and it may well fall to the next generation to deal with this properly.”

The number of people diagnosed with eating disorders has risen by 15 per cent since 2000, according to the latest study by King’s College London and the UCL Institute of Child Health.

The most susceptible group is adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 but diagnosis among boys has also increased.

More than 4,600 girls and 335 boys aged 15 to 19 develop an eating disorder in the UK yearly.

Lianne Thorndyke, of eating disorder charity Beat, said reaching young people is vital.

“We work with schools as we know early intervention is key,” she said.

“It’s about teaching students, staff and family members how to identify symptoms.”

If you would like to support Sophia and Amber’s campaign, their petition can be found at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/59244

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