Eating Disorder Centers Raise Concerns
Like clinics and addiction centers for drug problems, there has recently been a remarkable increase in centers that claim to treat eating disorders. In fact, today there are more than 75 centers throughout the U.S., compared with about 22 a decade ago.
This may be a combination of the current phenomenon known as the “obesity epidemic,” provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and other changes in health insurance laws that have increased coverage for mental disorders.
But is this a good thing?
The program personnel, themselves, certainly think so. They believe they fill a desperate need, serving the vast majority of patients from areas where no adequate eating disorder treatment is available.
But the aggressive advertising and rapid profusion of centers (cost is typically $1,000 a day, but can be much higher) is raising concerns among some eating disorders experts, who worry that some programs may be taking advantage of vulnerable patients and their families. They fear that quality of treatment may be sacrificed for profit. And they question whether the spa-like atmosphere of some programs is so comfortable that it fosters dependency.
Most specialists agree that some patients require the supervision of residential programs and benefit from the treatment. But studies showing these programs’ effectiveness are scarce, and the methods of the handful of studies that exist have been criticized.
Eating disorders are among the most difficult mental illnesses to treat. Anorexia, for instance, has frustrated many of psychiatry’s best treatment efforts. It has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder, with patients dying from the medical complications of starvation or from suicide.