Background: The economic burden and health service use of eating disorders have received little attention, although such data are necessary to estimate the implications of any changes in clinical practice for patient care and health care resource requirements. This systematic review reports the current international evidence on the resource use and cost of eating disorders.
Method: Relevant literature (1980-2002) was identified from searches of electronic databases and expert contacts.
Results: Two cost-of-illness studies from the UK and Germany, one burden-of-disease study from Australia and 14 other publications with relevant data from the UK, USA, Austria, Denmark and The Netherlands could be identified. In the UK, the health care cost of anorexia nervosa was estimated to be 4.2 million UK pounds in 1990. In Germany, the health care cost was 65 million Euro for anorexia nervosa and 10 million Euro for bulimia nervosa during 1998. The Australian study reported the health care costs of eating disorders to be Aus $22 million for year 1993/1994. Other costing studies focused mostly on in-patient care reporting highly variable estimates. There is a dearth of research on non-health care costs.
Conclusions: The limited available evidence reflects a general under-detection and under-treatment of eating disorders. Although both cost-of-illness studies may significantly underestimate the costs of eating disorders because of important omitted cost items, other evidence suggests that the economic burden is likely to be substantial. Comprehensive data on the resource use of patients with eating disorders are urgently needed for better estimations, and to be able to determine cost-effective treatment options.