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Eating disorders among girls and women in Canada

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Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women

This summary is based on the Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women

The devastating symptoms of an eating disorder lead to serious consequences: an individual’s mental and physical health are compromised, personal relationships may suffer, current and future education and employment opportunities may be jeopardized, financial security is put at risk, and overall quality of life deteriorates.

Furthermore, these disorders can be deadly. Individuals with eating disorders can develop life-threatening medical complications and often have debilitating concurrent disorders, such as depression.

In the report Eating Disorders Among Girls and Women in Canada, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women examines this potentially deadly mental illness, the factors contributing to eating disorders, and the obstacles in addressing them and seeking treatment. The Committee was disturbed to learn that despite the suffering and high mortality rates among individuals with eating disorders, it was difficult for these individuals to acknowledge their disorder, to seek the support of family and friends, as well as the greater community, to receive an official diagnosis from a medical professional, and to gain access to treatment and follow-up support services.

Read/download the full report (PDF)

Obstacles in addressing eating disorders

Challenges in accessing treatment

Patients with eating disorders, and the patients’ families, feel discriminated against by health care professionals and the health care system in general.

Access to information, diagnosis and treatment is very difficult for the majority of Canadians with eating disorders; and it is particularly challenging for certain marginalized populations.

Greater awareness of eating disorders is needed to counter stigma, misinformation or lack of information, and stereotypes.

For many individuals with eating disorders and their families, there are scarce resources and information available in the community.

One of the most significant roadblocks to successful diagnosis of, treatment of, and recovery from eating disorders are the stereotypes and stigma attached to them.

Living with an eating disorder results in a significant financial burden for the individual, a partner, and family members.

The majority of individuals who have eating disorders also have a concurrent disorder, such as anxiety, depression, trauma-related disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder or a substance-abuse issue.

There is a very active and dedicated group of Canadian researchers working on the subject of eating disorders, but that those researchers encounter serious challenges in developing and sharing research.

One of the first (and often the most significant) impediments to accessing treatment is obtaining a diagnosis.

In order to obtain a diagnosis, individuals exhibiting eating
disorder symptoms must rely on their health care providers. However, health care providers are often inadequately trained to diagnose eating
disorders.

One of the most common concerns raised with respect to treatment is the insufficient number of programs and the uneven distribution of programs across the country.

Many witnesses addressed the protracted waiting periods for treatment that
patients with eating disorders and their families face.

Individuals can wait months between an appointment with their family doctor and a referral to a specialist, months for the results of an assessment, and again months for admission to a hospital program.

The effective
treatment of eating disorders depends on high-quality research. Such research can inform not only specific treatments, but also program development.

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Health-Related Recommendations

Read the full list of recommendations put forward by the committee (PDF)

  • The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada collaborate with the provinces and territories to consider developing a health and well-being education and awareness campaign, including both in-school and social media content, to foster a positive sense of self to protect against eating disorders, and to include media literacy components to counteract images portrayed in mainstream media.
  • The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada should work with provinces, territories, and stakeholders to ensure that sufficient materials on eating disorders are incorporated into curricula for medical, nursing, psychology, psychiatry, and other health care professions to raise awareness and reduce stereotypes and stigma around eating disorders.
  • The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada recognize as a best practice the availability of navigators for eating disorders for the health and mental health care system to help identify quality services available in a timely manner, and help individuals and families navigate the system.
  • The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada should work with the provinces, territories, and stakeholders to improve understanding of eating disorders in the health care field. One current model is the Ontario Community Outreach Program for Eating Disorders which delivers education and other supports to health care professionals and encourages and empowers health care professionals to treat people with eating disorders.
  • The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada should work with the provinces, territories, and stakeholders to encourage multidisciplinary care teams, which might include dieticians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other necessary therapists, to ensure quality treatment, including for concurrent conditions.
  • The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada consider developing consistent standards on clinical care treatment and wait times for people with eating disorders.
  • The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada should work with the provinces, territories, and stakeholders to examine as a best practice that patients be treated by multi-disciplinary medical teams with experience and expertise on treating eating disorders.
  • The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada consider improving research on treating eating disorders, such as deep brain stimulation and trans-cranial magnetic stimulation.

2 Comments

  1. Lyn Fitzpatrick November 14, 2019

    I think it’s wonderful to see this issue being addressed Thank you. My concern is that the government’s title implies that only females suffer from EDs when in fact these disorders are prevalent in both genders. I also think they’ve left out the deadliness of this psychiatric disorder which kills 20% of its victims. As a community dentist, I see the oral effects of EDs in many of my patients. Let’s hope the government implements these suggestions.

    Reply
    1. CDA Oasis November 14, 2019

      Hi Lynn,

      Thank you for your comment. I think that the intent of the report was to look at the state of women in Canada, as a matter of fact the standing committee itself looks at the status of women; hence the interest in women rather than women and men. The report also speaks about the fact that these disorders could be fatal and that it is imperative to deal with them in a timely and collaborative manner.

      Thank you again,
      Chiraz, CDA Oasis Team

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