Eating disorder treatment 'needs more nuanced advice on fertility'

"More nuanced" information regarding fertility and reproductive health is required for women who are receiving treatment for eating disorders (EDs), according to research from the University of East Anglia (UEA), UK.

Published in the Sociology of Health & Illness journal, the study forms part of a wider set of findings suggesting people with EDs should have more input into their treatment and how medical information is communicated.

Twenty-four women with a mean age of 26 were recruited via Beat, the UK's eating disorder charity. All had received a diagnosis of an ED, and all but one had been told at some point in their treatment that the disorder could compromise fertility.

Most of the women said the information had been delivered more than once, but also said it had been presented in a "vague" or "unclear" way.

Other terms used in relation to how health professionals provide information about EDs and the link to fertility included "blackmail", "shock tactics", "scaremongering" and "ammunition".

Research leader Dr Su Holmes, a reader in UEA's School of Art, Media and American Studies, said healthcare workers have good intentions in giving fertility-related warnings to people with an ED. However, she also stressed that medical intervention "does not recognise the complexities of the individual causes of ED".

"Invariably, treatment regimes look at EDs as a 'problem' to be solved, rather than considering the myriad reasons the individual may be in eating distress or body distress," she added.