Brief Intervention Reduces Eating Disorders by 60% in Young Women

Eating disorders can be difficult to treat. For some individuals, young women in particular, eating disorders can develop at an early age and persist throughout adulthood. Overcoming eating disorders requires focus on not only the eating behaviors, but also body image, negative affect, perfectionism, and other issues that perpetuate eating problems. Often, eating disorders go hand in hand with obesity and lead to significant mental and physical health problems. Unfortunately, few programs have been developed to address all of the factors associated with eating issues and obesity. But one that has shown some promise is the Healthy Weight prevention program. This three-hour program was designed to educate women about healthy food choices and the importance of physical activity. In early studies it was shown to be quite effective over long-term follow-ups. A modified version of the Healthy Weight program, known as Healthy Weight 2, included nutritional information as well. But until now, no research has provided evidence of the effectiveness of Healthy Weight 2.

Eric Stice of the Oregon Research Institute recently assessed how well Healthy Weight 2 reduced eating problems, body mass index (BMI), and obesity in a sample of college women in Healthy Weight 2 compared to college women in a control group. At two years follow-up, Stice found that the women in Healthy Weight 2 had significant decreases in symptoms of eating disorders and also had slight gains in body satisfaction. However, the biggest result was the reduction in eating disorder development in the Healthy Weight 2 women. Other factors assessed were depressive symptoms, physical activity, obesity, BMI, and dieting behaviors, for which Stice found relatively no improvements.

The results of this study show that the Healthy Weight 2 did stall eating disorder development, but did not benefit the women in areas of obesity and eating problems as much as Healthy Weight 1. He believes the adding the nutritional component to the program could have removed the focus from the elements that worked so well in the original intervention. “Perhaps the focus on the healthy-ideal versus the thin-ideal promoted body satisfaction,” said Stice. “Attempting to make positive lifestyle changes may also improve body satisfaction.” Overall, the findings from this study support a brief intervention to decrease eating disorder onset and improve body satisfaction and obesity outcomes.

Stice, E., Rohde, P., Shaw, H., and Marti, C. N. (2012). Efficacy trial of a selective prevention program targeting both eating disorders and obesity among female college students: 1- and 2-year follow-up effects. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031235

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  • paulette


    January 31st, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    Do you find that eating disorders can be so difficult to treat because it isn’t just one thing that leads to the behavior but years and years of one thing after another that it must become difficult to pinpoint and address them all.

  • Monique


    January 31st, 2013 at 3:46 PM

    When you are feeling bad about your body and struggling with an eating disorder then nutritional info might not be the best route to prevention. I mean, this is something that we all tend to skim over when we are trying to lose weight, no really the thing that mnay of us want to focus on. We need to create programs that encourage women to be strong and to feel good about themselves, and this Healthy Weight program seems to do just that. It gives them a way to understand what they are feeling, the emotions that they have surrounding food, and hopefully better ways to cope with those emotions and get them in check without harming themselves. I would love to see more of these programs that emphasize so much more than just food crop up, because I think that with eating disorders on the rise we have to find some ways to reach out and help those who are seriously suffering with these feelings.

  • hoppingpinkrabbit


    January 31st, 2013 at 5:10 PM

    I struggle to see how this sort of idea can prevent eating disorders, but what I would have thought is it would open the floor for people to discuss their thoughts and so feel less alone. I’d have thought the communication and friendships could in part help reduce those with eating disorders from taking the next wrong step, becoming secretive and closing off from others because they feel alone or do not recognise a problem.
    I think there are so many causes for EDs and feeling low, depressed, body dysmorphic disorder, friendship battles/bullying and so on could easily be one. But abuse, PTSD and other more acute problems are another. I doubt this type of treatment would work for the latter group.

    But I welcome anything that helps at all, even if it helps one person it’s worth doing in my opinion.

  • brad


    February 1st, 2013 at 12:28 AM

    no method is perfect.and if this can produce results in a short period of time then why not!in fact I think young women whether they have a problem or not should go through a short program like this.will not only help the ones that have the issue but will also prevent the onset in others!

  • deb


    February 1st, 2013 at 3:58 AM

    This is one of those tricky areas though because so many girls hide their eating disorders so well, plus it is uncomfortable to talk to most people about their weight and eating. It is such a personal thing that most of us will not want to crosss the line into.

  • Pam Peeke, MD

    Pam Peeke, MD

    February 1st, 2013 at 9:32 AM

    It may be time to start taking a more multi-disciplined approach to eating disorders such as Binge Eating that result in obesity, as I write in my book, The Hunger Fix. New pioneering research is helping us to appreciate a holistic and integrative approach to addiction. I was first senior research fellow in the NIH Office of Complementary Medicine. Using food addiction as template, THE HUNGER FIX addiction plan integrates personal empowerment, spirituality, along with whole food nutrition and restorative physical activity.

  • Delia


    February 4th, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    If a brief intervention does this much then think of how much more effective a long term intervention could be!

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