NHS patients are set to receive therapy to “counteract the impact of harmful social media” as part of a new service designed to treat the rare eating disorder diabulimia.

The move will see patients taught how to deal with unrealistic body images, amid growing fears about the potential damage social media can have on the mental health of young people.

Diabulimia – a condition where people with type I diabetes restrict their insulin intake to lose weight, most commonly seen in peopled aged 15 to 30 – can lead to serious complications such blindness and amputations.

NHS England said in response to growing awareness of the illness it will pilot services joining up treatment for diabetes and mental ill health in London and the South Coast.

This new service will also provide access to specialist eating disorder teams and day care centres, as well as tailored care ranging from hospital stays where necessary and help in the community to provide advice on diet, insulin doses, as well as mental health support

“As a diabetes clinician, I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact that this condition can have on people and their families and so these services are an important step forward in the recognition of diabulimia,” said Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity at NHS England.

“With further emerging evidence from these pilot sites and more joined up working as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, we will treat many more in the near future.”

Diabetes UK has also welcomed the move. “It provides new hope that we will be able to much better support people with diabulimia,” said its senior clinical advisor Libby Dowling.

“Diabulimia is often well hidden by those living with it, and difficult to spot by healthcare professionals. And with as many as four in ten women aged between 15 and 35 affected by diabulimia at some point, it’s so important that specialist – and joined-up – services like these are made available to those who need them.

“These pilots are so important, and we hope their success will inspire even more investment across England.”