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Rise in eating disorders amongst students sparks concern – 30 June 2021

30 June 2021

  • New research shows increase in eating disorders and other mental health conditions among university applicants, following disruption caused by pandemic
  • Many students also say that they do not feel prepared for university – more support is needed from higher education sector
  • Almost all students want to feel a sense of belonging while at university, but many are anxious about fitting in
  • Research shows fall in excessive drinking and illegal drug consumption among future students
  • Students optimistic about securing job post-university

New research by Unite Students, the UK’s largest provider of student accommodation, shows a rise in the number of university applicants suffering with eating disorders and other mental health conditions.

In a survey of over 1,000 university applicants (due to begin studying at university in Autumn 2021), carried out in collaboration with YouthSight, almost a quarter (24%) said that they had experienced issues with eating or an eating disorder in the last year. This is up by six percentage points on 2017 figures, when just 18% said the same.

In addition:

  • 15% of respondents said that they have a mental health condition in 2021
  • Of those with mental health conditions:
    • 88% said they have anxiety
    • 11% said they have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    • 15% said they have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Across the wider survey group, almost all students (92%) want a sense of belonging to a community while they are at university, but over half are anxious about fitting in (59%)

Young people feel unprepared for university

The research also revealed that many do not feel prepared and informed for university in 2021.

Just 36% of total applicants surveyed said that they currently feel ready for their university experience in 2021, down from 45% in 2017.

Just 20% said that they felt well-informed, meanwhile, down from 33% in 2017.

Fall in excessive drinking and drug use
On a separate note, the research also showed a fall in rates of excessive drinking and illegal drug consumption.  Just 11% of all applicants said that they had drunk too much in the last year, down from 18% in 2017.
Meanwhile, 5% said they had consumed illegal drugs in the last year, down from 10% in 2017.

More face-to-face learning
Following their experiences of online learning at school and college during the pandemic, applicants want more face-to-face learning opportunities at university. If large-scale lectures continue to be held online from September, the majority (66%) of applicants would prefer a different face-to-face mode of learning.

Students optimistic about the job market
On a positive note, surprisingly, applicants are more confident about getting a job after university than they were in 2017. This year, 60% said they thought getting the job that they want post-university would be achievable, with ‘some effort and luck’, compared to 55% in 2017. 10%, further, said they thought it would be ‘very easy’.

All of these findings and trends are explored further in Unite Students’ Higher Education podcast, Accommodation Matters. Please find a link here.

Participants include:

  • Adrian Clark, Student Health & Wellbeing Manager, University of London
  • Sunday Blake, President at University of Exeter Students’ Guild
  • Wayne Templeman, Director of Sixth Form, St Bonaventure’s school, East London
  • Simon Jones, Business Development Director, Unite Students

For further information, please contact:

Unite Students
Unite Press Office
Tel: +44 117 450 6300

Courtney Sanford
Tel: +44 7795242564