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Online Program Targets Eating Disorders in College Women

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TUESDAY, Aug. 8 (HealthDay News) -- An online intervention program may prevent some high-risk, college-age women from developing eating disorders, says a California study funded by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

The study of 480 college-age women who were identified as being at risk for developing an eating disorder included an eight-week, online cognitive behavioral intervention program called Student Bodies, which previous small-scale, short-term studies had found to be effective.

The intervention program is designed to decrease concerns about body weight and shape, enhance body image, promote healthy eating and weight maintenance, and increase users' knowledge about the risks of eating disorders.

The women were required to do reading and other assignments, such as keeping an online body-image journal, and they also took part in an online discussion group that was moderated by clinical psychologists.

The participants were interviewed immediately after they completed the online program and annually for up to three years after that in order to determine their attitudes about their weight and shape and to check for the onset of any eating disorders.

The program seemed to be most successful among women who had body mass indexes (BMIs) of 25 or higher at the start of the study. Among these women, none had developed an eating disorder after two years, compared to 11.9 percent of women with comparable BMIs in a control group that did not use the intervention program.

The program also seemed effective among women who had some eating disorder symptoms at the start of the study, such as self-induced vomiting, laxative, diet pill or diuretic use, or excessive exercising.

Among these women in the intervention group, 14 percent developed an eating disorders within two years, compared to 30 percent of women with the same characteristics in the control group.

The findings were published in the August issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

"This study shows that innovative intervention can work and offers hope to those trying to overcome these illnesses," Dr. Thomas Insel, NIHM director, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The U.S. Center for Mental Health Services has more about eating disorders.

SOURCE: U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, news release, Aug. 7, 2006
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