My heart sank when I read the news about 18 year-old Chris Mapletoft. The talented young rugby player and prospective university student died in June after ingesting DNP, a chemical found in ‘fat-burning pills’. My thoughts and prayers are with Chris’ friends and family and no-one wishes to intrude on private grief. But this tragedy has triggered a wider conversation about the market for ‘fat-burning’, ‘slimming’, and ‘diet’ pills.
MGEDT welcomes calls from Chris’ parents and others to ban or restrict the sales of these pills. Logically, if they are harder to get then fewer people will take them and we may hopefully never see another fatality. This is a necessary step towards tackling the problem, but it is not sufficient. This solution only addresses ‘what’ and doesn’t tackle ‘why’.
I’m not going to speculate about Mr Mapletoft and I do not wish to imply or attribute any cause to his taking DNP. But other young men are undoubtedly putting themselves in danger by taking these extreme measures because of a perilously high degree of body-image insecurity. Simply, young men’s anxiety is causing them to take risks. Rather than focus on the risks, MGEDT believes the debate should focus on the anxiety.
If we are to prevent a tragedy like Chris’ in the future we
need to work to alleviate body image anxiety. In this way we go to the root cause of many destructive patterns of behaviour. Any fight to tackle the supply of diet pills fail if it only addresses the supply chain and not individuals’ motives. Diet pill abuse will undoubtedly decrease if people do not feel so urgent a need to alter themselves.
It is not breaking news that body image is an increasing source of anxiety for men. The Royal College of general practitioners has reported a 66 per cent increase in the number of hospital admissions for men suffering from eating disorders. The NHS now estimates that a quarter of those suffering from eating disorders are male. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests – and I speak from experience – that treatment is extremely hard to access. Some do not understand that eating disorders are indiscriminate of sexuality, race, religion, and age; and are most certainly indiscriminate of gender.
MGEDT is working to bring about a culture where young men no longer feel the need to take extreme steps to achieve what some elements of society and the media promote as an ideal. We are working to make healthcare and education professionals more responsive to
men’s mental health needs so that signs of crisis are picked up earlier. Above all, we are working to support those going through crisis so that they know they are not alone.
We desperately hope Chris Mapletoft will not be one of more to come. We hope that other young lives will be saved by professionals recognising warning signs. We hope that young men will no longer be ashamed to seek help or face barriers doing so.