News

Parliamentary committee report on eating disorders disappoints advocates

OTTAWA – A Parliamentary report on eating disorders in Canada is being criticized by some of the witnesses who testified before the committee.

The 27 witnesses who testified over a six-month period had a common message: getting treatment for eating disorders in Canada is next to impossible.

Dr. Blake Woodside, who runs the country’s largest eating disorder program at Toronto General hospital, was among those who testified.

“People give up, they get tired of waiting and they drop off our wait list and they go on to chronic illness or premature death,” Woodside said.

The testimony of Woodside and the others is spelled out in the committee’s report,which highlights the lack of access to treatment and lack of awareness around eating disorders.

Recommendations

There were 25 recommendations made in the report, and at least half of them advocate working with provinces.

Many witnesses, however, wanted Ottawa to take the lead and create a national database, increase research funding and implement country-wide standards that would force provinces to improve wait times.

Wendy Preskow, whose daughter suffers from an eating disorder, says she’s disappointed the recommendations didn’t more directly push the federal government to implement those requests.

“It was just all too vague, there was not enough we’re going to do this, going to do that, there was no commitment,” she said.

“How can the government not see that something needs to take place and that there needs to be action?”

Opposition parties table dissenting reports

Preskow’s criticism is shared by the opposition, which tabled dissenting reports.

Both the NDP and Liberal reports demand the federal government take on a leadership role and do more to improve access to treatment for eating disorders.

“I call it a ‘consider, encourage and recognize’ report. Over half the recommendations call on the government to do nothing,” Liberal committee member Kirsty Duncan said.

NDP MP Niki Ashton said there needs to be a national plan.

“There needs to be coordinated national action and there also needs to be a recognition of the kind of investments that our health care system needs, which is entirely under the purview of the federal government.”

Government response

Conservative MP Susan Truppe, parliamentary secretary to the Minister for the Status of Women, is defending the report.

“We used encourage, we also used consider,” she said. “Because they’re recommendations they’re not things we say you must do, but we want them to consider, or the committee is encouraging them to look at something.

“None of these recommendations have to be done, all we can do as committee members is make our recommendations and hope something gets done.”

The government has 120 days to respond to the report. Truppe is confident it will be well-received.

“This is such an important study, and such an important issue. I know the recommendations will be taken seriously,” she said.

Wendy Spettigue, a pediatric psychiatrist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and one of the expert witnesses who testified before the committee, will be watching to see how the government responds.

Spettigue has worked with children with eating disorders for decades, and seen the effects of long wait lists first-hand.

Seeing the report made her emotional. “It does feel as though somebody cared, and somebody listened and is trying to let others know that this is such a big problem,” she said.

But for Preskow, seeing the problem in print isn’t enough. She says she’s determined to continue pressing the government to act.

“We don’t have time to wait another five or ten years for more action at the federal level, we really don’t. We need action now.”