Is there a test for an eating disorder?

In order to properly diagnose an eating disorder, a full assessment needs to be made by your GP, a specialist nurse, psychiatrist or psychologist. This will include details about your symptoms and feelings, food intake, weight and blood tests.

Although there is no single test for an eating disorder, there is a very good screening tool which is often used by GPs and other people working in healthcare. A screening tool means it shows whether you are likely to have an eating disorder and therefore should be referred to a specialist who will be able to make a diagnosis.

The SCOFF questionnaire

This screening test is called the SCOFF questionnaire, which consists of five simple questions:

  • Do you make yourself Sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
  • Do you worry you have lost Control over how much you eat?
  • Have you recently lost more than One stone in a three month period?
  • Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin?
  • Would you say that Food dominates your life?

There is a point for every “yes” – a score of 2 or above indicates a likely case of anorexia nervosa or bulimia.

How reliable is the SCOFF test for an eating disorder?

The SCOFF test was devised in 1999 by a team working under the leadership of Newbridge House Medical Director Professor Hubert Lacey during his time at St George’s Hospital.

It has since been translated into many different languages and used by hundreds of thousands of clinicians across the world. Assessment of the SCOFF test concludes that it is 100 per cent effective in terms of identifying people with anorexia or bulimia. However there is a 12.5 per cent ‘false positive’ rate, which means that around one in eight people taking the test and found to be positive will not have an eating disorder.

Although the SCOFF test for an eating disorder is widely available, including online, it is not intended for use by the public independently. Although using it in this way may be helpful for you, it is strongly recommended that you take your results to your GP and discuss it with him or her.

The intention was for the test to be used by GPs and others such as school nurses who may be the first professionals to see someone with an eating disorder. They can then use the test to decide whether the individual should be referred to an eating disorders service for a full assessment.