College women at risk for eating disorder may benefit from online intervention

A long-term, large-scale study has found that an Internet-based intervention program may prevent some high risk, college-age women from developing an eating disorder. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), was published in the August 2006 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The researchers conducted a randomized, controlled trial of 480 college-age women in the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego, Calif., who were identified in preliminary interviews as being at risk for developing an eating disorder. The trial included an eight-week, Internet-based, cognitive-behavioral intervention program called "Student Bodies," which had been shown to be effective in previous small-scale short-term studies. The intervention aimed to reduce the participants' concerns about body weight and shape, enhance body image, promote healthy eating and weight maintenance, and increase knowledge about the risks associated with eating disorders.

The online program included reading and other assignments such as keeping an online body-image journal. Participants also took part in an online discussion group, moderated by clinical psychologists. Participants were interviewed immediately following the end of the online program, and annually for up to three years thereafter to determine their attitudes toward their weight and shape, and measure the onset of any eating disorders.

"Eating disorders are complex and particularly difficult to treat. In fact, they have one of the highest mortality rates among all mental disorders," said NIMH Director Thomas Insel, M.D. "This study shows that innovative intervention can work, and offers hope to those trying to overcome these illnesses."

Over the course of a lifetime, about 0.5 to 3.7 percent of girls and women will develop anorexia nervosa, and about 1.1 to 4.2 percent will develop bulimia nervosa. About 0.5 percent of those with an

Contact: Colleen Labbe
NIH/National Institute of Mental Health

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