Compulsory treatments in eating disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Eat Weight Disord. 2021 May;26(4):1037-1048. doi: 10.1007/s40519-020-01031-1. Epub 2020 Oct 24.


Introduction: The aims of this systematic review and meta-analysis are to provide a summary of the current literature concerning compulsory treatments in patients with eating disorders (ED) and to understand whether compulsorily and involuntarily treated patients differ in terms of baseline characteristics and treatment outcomes.

Methods: Relevant articles were identified following the PRISMA guidelines by searching the following terms: "treatment refusal", "forced feeding", "compulsory/coercive/involuntary/forced treatment/admission", "eating disorders", "feeding and eating disorders", "anorexia nervosa", "bulimia nervosa". Research was restricted to articles concerning humans and published between 1975 and 2020 in English.

Results: Out of 905 articles retrieved, nine were included for the analyses allowing the comparisons between 242 compulsorily and 738 voluntarily treated patients. Mean body mass index (BMI) was slightly lower in patients compelled to treatments. Mean illness duration, BMI at discharge and BMI variation showed no significant differences between the two groups. Average length of hospitalization was 3 weeks longer among compulsory-treated patients, but this did not result in a higher increase in BMI. No significant risk difference on mortality was estimated (three studies).

Conclusions: Compulsory treatments are usually intended for patients having worse baseline conditions than voluntary ones. Those patients are unlikely to engage in treatments without being compelled but, after the treatments, albeit with longer hospitalisations, they do achieve similar outcomes. Therefore, we can conclude that forcing patients to treatment is a conceivable option.

Level of evidence: Level I, systematic review and meta-analysis.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; BMI; Bulimia nervosa; Compulsory admission; Eating disorders; Involuntary hospitalization; Involuntary treatment; Meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anorexia Nervosa*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Bulimia Nervosa*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Treatment Outcome