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Report: Poor Physician Understanding of Eating Disorders Leading to Avoidable Deaths

October 23, 2019

The Academy for Eating Disorders in Reston, Virginia is supporting calls to address physician training after a recent report found inadequate medical education around eating disorders is resulting in avoidable patient deaths.

The parliamentary report was the result of a House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee investigation in the United Kingdom.

Among the investigation’s findings were that training on eating disorders is limited to “just a few hours” during medical school and that general practitioners and medical staff need significantly more education on eating disorders, and how patients with such conditions may present, to prevent unnecessary deaths.

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Shortly after the report’s publication, the BMJ reported on the findings.

“The piece in the BMJ highlights the importance of providing education and training on eating disorders throughout the medical education pipeline, but particularly among medical students and residents so that physicians are equipped to detect and manage eating disorders in their practices,” said Christine Peat, PhD, director of the National Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

“The National Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders is thrilled to be working on such efforts and is ready to learn from the educational endeavors of our counterparts in the UK.”

The report also found that the National Health Service lacked precise data on the prevalence of eating disorders. Furthermore, the report stated that many UK physicians rely too much on body mass index to diagnose an eating disorder, which results in vast underdiagnosis, delayed care for the majority of patients with the condition, and avoidable deaths.

“We hope and urge that the governments across the world and the World Health Organization will … help in improving care for patients with eating disorders and saving lives,” said Ashish Kumar, MD, president of the European Chapter of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London.

“This can be achieved by improving teaching and training of medical, nursing, dietetic, psychological, and other allied professionals.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Thornton J. Lack of training in eating disorders is contributing to avoidable deaths, MPs conclude. BMJ. 2019 June 18;365:l4279.

Avoidable deaths occurring due to lack of physician training about eating disorders [press release]. Reston, Virginia: Academy for Eating Disorders; October 17, 2019.

Serious lack of training for doctors on eating disorders, committee report finds [press release]. London, United Kingdom: UK Parliament; June 18, 2019.

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