Eating problems and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder can be serious conditions, but they often remain undetected. Although many people think they are rare conditions, they affect more than 10% of people during their lifetimes. Eating problems are typically not screened for or treated within the VA healthcare system. This may be because many people believe that since Veterans are mostly male, they are not affected by these problems and disorders. Yet we know that about a quarter of these problems occur in men.
People with eating problems use healthcare services frequently, possibly because these problems can have medical consequences, such as dental and gastrointestinal problems. Despite this the eating problems often remain undetected and people are not offered targeted help.
There is a lot that we do not know about Veterans’ experiences of eating problems. We do not know exactly how many Veterans are affected by eating difficulties and eating disorders and what help or treatment they might find most effective. Our research aims to find out how many Veterans are affected by these difficulties, what other co-existing problems may also be contributing to their problems and how better to offer them targeted health care. We will do this by talking to a large group of Veterans with a variety of eating difficulties and some with no such difficulties at all.
Our findings have the potential to help many Veterans with eating problems and eating disorders. Knowing how many Veterans have problems will help policy-makers decide how to fund research and treatment services. Many people with eating problems never seek or receive help for their problems, possibly because they do not know how to find help or because they fear being discriminated against if they do. We hope that our findings will help us address some of these barriers and increase the likelihood that Veterans will receive the help they need and want.