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Death by Wait List: Eating Disorder Treatment in Canada

A post by Youth Council member Olivia Watkin-McClurg


In March 2015, I had an illness that was getting worse by the day. Despite my best efforts, my health was declining, and I required treatment. But I didn’t qualify for the treatment options in my city and faced a long wait for a program an hour away. While I waited helplessly, my illness destroyed my health and my life. Unfortunately, my situation was not unique. For Canadians with eating disorders, deteriorating on wait lists is the unfortunate reality.


Approximately 150,000 to 600,000 Canadians are affected by an Eating Disorder. (Eating disorders on the rise, 2013) And according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, at least 73 Canadians died from eating disorders from 2007-2011. (Kapelos, 2014) Eating Disorders are serious conditions that require urgent intervention-it is estimated that 10% of Anorexics will die within 10 years of onset of the disorder- and yet sufferers are often forced to wait months or years for treatment(Sullivan, 2002). At Homewood, Canada’s largest inpatient treatment centre, patients with private or supplementary health insurance wait 2-5 months while those relying on OHIP wait an average of 2-3 years for their services. (Sagan, 2014) During this time, a patient’s health can greatly deteriorate, even to the point of death.


This situation is the direct result of a lack of available treatment programs. Canada is a country of 37 million people, and yet there are just 21 intensive treatment centres. And there are parts of the country where no treatment is available at all.Blake Woodside from the Eating Disorders Program at Toronto General Hospital, where I attended the Day Hospital Program, lamented that there are parts of Canada with no specialized treatment programs even though eating disorders have a death rate around 15%. (Eating disorders on the rise, 2013) “I’m talking about Toronto here with three to four months. There is no treatment in New Brunswick, there is no treatment in P.E.I., there is limited treatment in Labrador, there are no in-patient beds in Quebec, limited treatment in Alberta and B.C., and no treatment in the North.” This inadequate and unequal access to treatment needs to be addressed.


So where do we go from here? Eating disorders are serious illnesses that often require intensive treatment, and yet this treatment is not adequately available in Canada. Experts agree that patients across the country are waiting too long to access care they desperately need, and some aren’t receiving it at all. The Canadian government has a duty to respond to this dire situation. In 2014, the Standing Committee of the Status of Women in Canada compiled a report on eating disorders in girls and women and provided 25 recommendations for Harper’s federal government (Government of Canada, 2014). The government’s response listed existing commitments to related but separate initiatives and committed no further support.(Government of Canada, 2015) The current Liberal government also hasn’t implemented the recommendations, which included a national eating disorder strategy and limits on wait times.Inaction condemns patients to hellish wait times, lack of available treatment options, and even death. In failing to act, the Government has blood on its hands, the death toll will only continue to rise.  




Canada. Parliament. House of Commons. Response to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. (2015) Eating disorders among girls and women in Canada. 41st Parliament, Second Session. Available: https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/41-2/FEWO/report-4

Canada. Parliament. House of Commons. Standing Committee on the Status of Women. (2014) Eating disorders among girls and women in Canada. 41st Parliament, Second Session. Available: http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2014/parl/xc71-1/XC71-1-1-412-4-eng.pdf

Eating disorders on the rise in Canada, as sufferers wait for treatment. (2013). CTV News. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/lets-talk/eating-disorders-on-the-rise-in-canada-as-sufferers-wait-for-treatment-1.1151323

Kapelos, V. (2014). Fears grow as wait lists for eating disorder treatments lengthen. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/1566860/fears-grow-as-wait-lists-for-eating-disorder-treatments-lengthen/

Kapelos, V. (2014). Top doctor sounds alarm on lack of treatment for eating disorders. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/1569023/top-doctor-sounds-alarm-on-lack-of-treatment-for-eating-disorders/

Sagan, A. (2014). Eating disorder patient seeks $60K online for health care. CBC. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/eating-disorder-patient-seeks-60k-online-for-health-care-1.2497052

Sullivan, P. (2002). Course and outcome of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In Fairburn, C. G. & Brownell, K. D. (Eds.). Eating Disorders and Obesity (pp. 226-232). New York, New York: Guilford

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