Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Complex Eating Difficulties.

In May 2013, a new category of eating disorder emerged in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), a psychiatric classification and diagnostic tool used across North America. Now, two years later, a new commentary by experts from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) reflects on the clinical impact of the diagnosis of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), and the work that remains in terms of treatments and improved outcomes. The commentary is published in the online edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The classification of ARFID expanded upon a previous diagnostic category of Feeding Disorder of Infancy or Early Childhood, which was rarely used or studied. ARFID is described as substantial restrictions or challenges with food intake, associated with weight loss or lack of expected weight gain in the context of significant physiological and/or psychosocial distress. Drs. Katzman and Norris have led or participated in a variety of studies on the diagnosis since its introduction and are planning future studies in the area as well.

“ARFID is not just about picky eating, it’s a very challenging diagnostic category in the DSM-5,” says co-author Dr. Debra Katzman, a Staff Physician in the Eating Disorders program and Senior Associate Scientist at SickKids. “These kids have complexity, and this condition persists for long periods of time and requires treatment to address both the medical and psychosocial aspects of the condition. If left untreated, children and teens may be left with serious, long-term complications.”

In addition to the physiological impairments caused by the disorder, there are serious social implications, especially for teens, whose social interactions are often centred around food. “For those teens who are unable to go out to eat pizza with their friends, the condition can be socially limiting,” says Katzman, who is also Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto.

“Parents have a significant role in identifying unhealthy patterns in their child,” says co-author Dr. Mark Norris, Adolescent Health Physician and Associate Professor of Paediatrics within the Department of Paediatrics at CHEO. “Concerned parents should talk to their child’s paediatrician or family doctor early on, rather than letting the problem persist for months or even years.”

It is also critical, he explains, that clinicians on the front-lines and in eating disorders programs alike become more familiar with the diagnosis, so that the depth and range of eating difficulties among children, teens and adults can be further studied. In tandem, eating disorders specialists are working to assess outcomes and evaluate the effectiveness of different interventions.


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