THE unit specialising in eating disorders (UTCA) at Son Dureta hospital in Palma, doubled its number of patients during 2003 in respect of figures for the previous year. UTCA's clinical psychologist at Son Dureta, María Carrer, confirmed that the number of cases of anorexia and bulimia had soared last year in comparison to 2003 leading to the unit having to make available double the number of beds. Within these last two years, however, the number of people being admitted to the Daycare section of the hospital has remained steady at 30 during 2003 and 32 in 2002. The external consulting section recorded 232 first-time visits during 2003 in comparision to only 125 in 2002, and 3'569 post-diagnostic check-ups, 400 more than the previous year. This figure includes appointments with nursing staff for established treatment of this pathological condition. Son Dureta and the Capistrano clinic are currently the only hospital centres that provide medical care for this kind of eating disorder. An official memorandum has consequently recorded that more units of this kind need to be set up in the Balearics. As one of the chief causes of the alarming rise in eating disorders, experts point to people's obsessive level of worry over their physical appearance at an increasingly early age. Vanessa Colomer, a Red Cross health programme co-ordinator, confirmed that this obsession and unfounded fears lead young people to concern themselves with body shape and size long before it should be an issue in their lives at all.

Amongst the principal causes of the condition, the co-ordinator quoted the disproportionate influence of the media, extreme fashion, the obsession for avoiding potentially fattening food and the cult of a new beauty look which champions being excessively slender. The Red Cross has been giving public talks on the realities of sensible eating since 1998, aiming to reach some 900 young people a year. Awareness-raising courses, which will also be running throughout 2004, are based on informal and informative “chats” with attendees but ensure that factual recommendations for sensible eating are top of the agenda. Separately, Catalina Mas, secretary of the Association against Anorexia and Bulimia in the Balearics (ACABB), reported that during 2002 and 2003, her organisation developed a prevention plan in different schools and colleges which included carrying out tests on more than 600 pupils. Special attention was paid to high risk groups, taking into account interviewees' comments and opinions on food, fashion and their own figure with the help of clinical psychologists.