Headshot of Dr. Jennifer Coelho
Dr. Jennifer Coelho, investigator at BCCHR, is a member of the working group leading the study.

Researchers from several institutions across the country, including BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute (BCCHR), are calling for a national surveillance strategy on eating disorders. A new pan-Canadian analysis showed a sharp increase in the cost of eating disorders in children and youth, comparing the periods before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study resulted from a collaboration between more than 40 health-care and academic partners.

“We can see that the need for eating disorder services is surging,” says Dr. Jennifer Coelho, investigator at BCCHR and clinical associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Dr. Coelho is a member of the working group leading the study.

“Our team is providing training in family-based therapy for eating disorders to clinicians across BC and the Yukon to support access to quality, evidence-based treatments for eating disorders, no matter where a family lives.”

Led by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute, the Deloitte Access Economics report is the first of its kind in Canada. It shines a light on the significant costs of eating disorders to the Canadian health-care system during the pandemic. Between 2020 and 2022, there was a 126 per cent increase in eating disorder-related emergency room visits and a 60 per cent increase in hospitalizations compared to one-year pre-COVID.

The report indicates the incremental cost impact of children and youth with eating disorders reached $39.5 million from 2020 to 2022, which represents a 21 per cent increase based on the limited data available. Experts say these figures are only a fraction of the true cost of eating disorders in Canada.

Due to a lack of surveillance data, not all components of the cost of care — including the cost of standard eating disorder treatment programs such as day hospital programs and support-based community eating disorder services (which rose by 118 per cent in the first two years of the pandemic) — were accounted for in the report.

On May 2, 2024, the study group is hosting a pan-Canadian meeting in Ottawa with international experts in eating disorder system transformation, Canadian research and health-care leaders, individuals with lived experience, and policy makers to review in detail the report findings and identify an action plan.

Adapted from CHEO Research Institute’s news release