Eating disorders: progress and challenges

Eur J Intern Med. 2011 Apr;22(2):153-60. doi: 10.1016/j.ejim.2010.12.010. Epub 2011 Jan 14.


Background: Eating disorders are common health problems afflicting mainly female adolescents and young women. They are associated with important physical health and psychosocial morbidity, and carry increased risk of death. Their cause is not yet completely understood and their management is complex, with some patients resisting all available treatments. AIMS OF THIS REVIEW: To provide the readers with an update regarding our knowledge and understanding of eating disorders.

Methods: Medline database has been used for searching articles on eating disorders published since 1980. The key words used were eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating. Professional books published during this period has been also reviewed.

Conclusions: In the last 30 years a substantial improvement has been achieved both in the understanding and management of eating disorders, but many problems still need to be resolved. Three principal priorities should be addressed. First, the actual classification of eating disorders should be revised, since about half the cases seen in clinical practice receive a diagnosis of eating disorder not otherwise specified, and it is common to observe a migration between eating disorder diagnoses. Second, the research on pathogenesis should better clarify the exact role of genetic and environmental risk factors, and how they interact and vary across the development and maintenance of eating disorders. Third, there is an urgent need both to disseminate the few evidence-based treatments available, and to develop more potent treatments for all the eating disorder diagnostic categories.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Distribution
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / classification
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / etiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / therapy
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution