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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