Anorexia and bulimia aren’t the only eating disorders that warrant attention

4 March 2021

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are well-known eating disorders, but binge-eating disorder and Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED) are more prevalent, cause more disability, and warrant more attention from health policymakers and service providers.

A new study found that in 2019, 41.9 million people globally had binge-eating disorder and OSFED –compared with 13.6 million people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research expert Dr Damian Santomauro said the results provided justification for the inclusion of these conditions in the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study.

“The study is a worldwide epidemiological study that quantifies mortality and disability from diseases, injuries, and risk, and helps clinicians, and policymakers to plan a health system response,” Dr Santomauro said.

“When disorders are left out of the GBD, there is a risk that policymakers and service planners will interpret that these diseases are not prevalent or disabling and therefore, not important to address.

“The prevention and treatment of eating disorders should be taken very seriously as they are physically, mentally, and socially disabling; have high rates of relapse from available treatments; and of all mental disorders, they are associated with the highest rates of cause-specific mortality.”

Study results showed that in addition to being more prevalent, binge-eating disorder and OSFED were also significantly more disabling at the population level.

QCMHR’s Mental Disorders Burden of Disease team works closely with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington to produce all burden of disease estimates for mental disorders in the yearly iterations of the IHME-led Global Burden of Disease Study.

The team is focused on improving both the scope and precision of burden estimates for mental disorders in future iterations of the GBD, including the development of methodologies to estimate burden for causes not currently included in the study, such as binge-eating disorder and OSFED.

Dr Santomauro said the study paved the way for other researchers to test the feasibility and importance of including other causes of disease burden in the GBD study.

“Other researchers may want to emulate our methods to justify the inclusion of other disorders in the GBD,” he said.

“Our results show that the formal inclusion of binge-eating disorder and OSFED in GBD is both feasible and important, and will lead to better representation of eating disorder burden globally.

“In turn this will enhance recognition of the burden experienced by people living with these disorders and hopefully, motivate increased investment in research, prevention and treatment in future.”

The study was published in The Lancet Psychiatry on 4 March 2021. Dr Santomauro is an Adjunct Fellow at UQ’s School of Public Health.

Media: Dr Damian Santomauro, QCMHR, Kate Gadenne, Research Development Manager, 0438 727 895,