Eating disorders (ED), especially Anorexia Nervosa (AN) have amongst the highest mortality and suicide rates in mental health. With limited evidence for current pharmacological and/or psychological treatments, there is a grave responsibility within health research to better understand outcomes for people with a lived experience of ED, factors and interventions that may reduce the detrimental impact of illness and to optimise recovery. This paper aims to synthesise the literature on outcomes for people with ED, including rates of remission, recovery and relapse, diagnostic crossover, and mortality.
This paper forms part of a Rapid Review series scoping the evidence for the field of ED, conducted to inform the Australian National Eating Disorders Research and Translation Strategy 2021–2031, funded and released by the Australian Government. ScienceDirect, PubMed and Ovid/MEDLINE were searched for studies published between 2009 and 2022 in English. High-level evidence such as meta-analyses, large population studies and Randomised Controlled Trials were prioritised through purposive sampling. Data from selected studies relating to outcomes for people with ED were synthesised and are disseminated in the current review.
Of the over 1320 studies included in the Rapid Review, the proportion of articles focused on outcomes in ED was relatively small, under 9%. Most evidence was focused on the diagnostic categories of AN, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder, with limited outcome studies in other ED diagnostic groups. Factors such as age at presentation, gender, quality of life, the presence of co-occurring psychiatric and/or medical conditions, engagement in treatment and access to relapse prevention programs were associated with outcomes across diagnoses, including mortality rates.
Results are difficult to interpret due to inconsistent study definitions of remission, recovery and relapse, lack of longer-term follow-up and the potential for diagnostic crossover. Overall, there is evidence of low rates of remission and high risk of mortality, despite evidence-based treatments, especially for AN. It is strongly recommended that research in long-term outcomes, and the factors that influence better outcomes, using more consistent variables and methodologies, is prioritised for people with ED.