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Eating disorder business founder welcomes ground-breaking ‘hybrid’ research finding

The founder of a business which champions eating disorder support and recovery has today welcomed ground-breaking research findings from King’s College London.

A global study has for the first time suggested that anorexia may be more than a psychological illness, and that genetic predispositions around an individual’s metabolic rate may be a major factor.


The discovery comes from screening close to 17,000 cases of anorexia, experienced by those in 17 countries.

It means medical experts now have a far greater understanding of what might be causing people to develop eating disorders such as anorexia, and why it is so difficult to treat.

Debbie Watson, who experienced more than two decades of anorexia, and who has more recently launched the social enterprise Wednesday’s Child to help reach more sufferers, said she is delighted to hear the findings of this research.

“The revelations from this study are hugely exciting, and really could start a new way of thinking around what causes people to experience eating disorders, but more importantly, how we can better shape treatment to make it effective,” she said.

“It’s long been the case that treatment effectiveness has been questioned and that many people who have not received early intervention approaches have gone on to suffer from their illness for far far too long.

“This research allows us to look more at other factors which have played a part in the onset of an eating disorder, which in turn points to new ways of how treatment can be designed and delivered.”

Deborah Watson

Historically, it has often been believed that those suffering from an eating disorder are driven by a desire for thinness and that the condition is purely psychiatric.

The new study has compared seven million genes across each person involved in the research and found that many had clear common factors around metabolic rates and healthy genetic correlations – suggesting there is far more to the picture than once thought.

Debbie added: “While no-one wants to criticise what has been possible in recent years by way of treatment options, it’s been very clear to me for a long time, that the structure of pathways toward recovery need changing.

“This research allows us to see that the way of addressing anorexia is, in part, to look at it as more of a hybrid disorder – whereby it’s affecting both the brain and the body.

“It’s so very much more than someone wishing to be thin or having a mental challenge around body image. It does indeed look that genetic factors could be highly significant, and so this, in turn, means a revision of treatment plans is more plausible for the future.”

However, while the study findings will still need an extensive period of assessment and further consideration before treatment changes are seen in mainstream healthcare, Debbie says she is pleased to be seeing the positive reaction to Wednesday’s Child’s unique new approach.

“One thing is clear – we cannot afford to wait,” she said.

“Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental health illnesses, which is one of the motivators for having wanted to create a social enterprise ‘purpose-driven business’ which can deliver for those who are affected in a number of really constructive ways.

“We’re finding incredible responses from schools, corporates and healthcare professionals who want us to work with them to deliver more of our bespoke training and empathy activities.

“Meanwhile, we’re also taking more of our Supportive Suppers and our wellbeing boxes to those suffering, and to those who are parents or carers wishing to help someone on their journey to recovery.”

A longer-term mission for Wednesday’s Child aims to achieve a designated daycare and educational centre to support both individuals with eating disorders, and those wishing to gain more awareness.

Current activities include Supportive Suppers, Accompanied Shopping, Awareness Certification (for individuals and corporates), Recovery Coaching, and a Jobs and Skills Portal, aimed at allowing those with a mental health condition to access projects and opportunities which potentially need less formal workplace structures. For more information about Wednesday’s Child, to collaborate, or to commission awareness training for staff teams, please visit or email

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