Eating Disorders in Primary Care


This project, led by PhD Candidate Alana Heafala, is exploring the dietitian’s role working with patients with eating disorders in primary health care.

Eating disorders are a group of psychological conditions characterised by a disturbance in eating behaviours, body image and attitudes toward food. They effect close to one million Australians at any given time and can have significant psychological, nutritional and medical complications, even death. Dietitian’s play a key role in the prevention, identification, early intervention and treatment of eating disorders, working in collaboration with general practitioners and mental health professionals. Eating disorders (ED) is currently the most funded condition by the Australian government with patients eligible to receive up to 20 dietetic consultations per year. ED dietetics is often seen as a specialist area; however, dietitians can work in this field upon graduation. Evidence-based guidelines are currently lacking and little is known about dietetic care for eating disorders in a primary care setting. 


This research aims to identify the knowledge and skills needed to provide safe and effective dietetic care to people with disordered eating (DE) and/or a diagnosed eating disorder through the Australian primary care setting. Understanding core competencies to work in DE and ED dietetics will assist in identifying the training and education needs of dietitians, define career pathways and assist in the understanding of the scope of practice for practitioners working in this field.


Given the significant investment by the Federal Government towards the prevention and treatment of EDs in Australia, research is urgently needed to understand the factors influencing safe and effective dietetic care for this high-risk population. Identifying core competencies and the scope of practice for dietitians working in this field would assist in the design and development of training and education programs for practitioners working in this sector. Such training would be able to be incorporated into credentialing programs of health professionals working with DE and EDs, enhancing the quality of care received by patients seeking treatment and increasing the likelihood of a full recovery.