Young women most frequent patients for eating disorders

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From time to time, CIHI is asked to submit data to inform the discussions of various parliamentary committees looking at important health issues for Canadians. Most recently, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women asked CIHI to assist in its work to better understand eating disorders and associated conditions among women and girls.

CIHI’s unique contribution to the work of the committee was to pull together and analyze relevant data across ambulatory, inpatient and clinic services in a brief to the standing committee with provincial comparisons and age groupings.

Following the provision of the brief, and thinking that the information would be of interest to a broader audience, CIHI publicly released an information sheet and related data tables about eating disorders in Canada. The data tables show hospitalization rates for males and females with eating disorders, in addition to hospitalization and length of stay trends for females. Findings of the information sheet and brief include the following:

  • Females had a hospitalization rate that was 15 times higher than that for males.
  • Young women (age 10 to 19) had the highest hospitalization rate among all age groups in each year of the observation period. More than half (55%) of the 1,585 hospitalizations for an eating disorder in 2012–2013 were among 10- to 19-year-old females.
  • Young women (age 10 to 19) showed the largest change in inpatient hospitalization rates, with a 42% increase over the last 2 years of the observation period.
  • This group of young women (age 10 to 19) also visited the emergency department (ED) more over the same period of time. In Alberta and Ontario (the jurisdictions for which complete ED data is available), the rate of ED visits for eating disorders for this age group increased from 27 to 45 visits per 100,000 females.

Mental illness with significant medical complications 

Dr. Mark Norris, adolescent health physician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and incoming president of the Eating Disorders Association of Canada, reviewed the data submitted to the committee in relationship to his work, including research published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

“Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses associated with significant medical complications,” he says. “Eating disorder admissions are most common in the adolescent and young adult age group, and rates of hospitalizations in this age cohort have increased in Canada over the past 2 years. CIHI’s data has helped to give numeric proof to what so many physicians, nurses and other service providers know to be a growing issue.”

Other conditions may be contributing to the hospital admission rate for young women with eating disorders. “Rates of admissions in this age group have increased among those hospitalized primarily as a result of the eating disorder and also among those with a secondary eating disorder diagnosis (often they are admitted for suicidality, associated with depression and an eating disorder),” says Dr. Norris. “Patients with eating disorders are known to have other comorbid diagnoses, of which mood and anxiety disorders are most commonly observed.”

Looking forward

The standing committee’s findings will be presented to the House of Commons in the coming months.

“Though I believe we provided some very useful information to the committee, there is the opportunity to do more,” says Brent Diverty, vice president of Programs at CIHI. “For example, CIHI does not have 100% coverage of Canadian emergency department data and services offered through community-based clinics—where many of those with eating disorders seek treatment.” CIHI will continue to work with jurisdictions to increase participation in our ambulatory care and community-based health services information programs.