National Screening Program Shows Impact of Education

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
May/June 2001 Volume 12, Number 3
©2001 Gürze Books

Last spring, the National Eating Disorders Screening Program (NEDSP) undertook the first nationwide eating disorders screening project in American high schools The goal of the project was to encourage teens with symptoms of untreated eating disorders to seek help. One year later, investigators have shown that educational materials—in this case an informative video and other materials—do make a difference.

Dr. S. Bryn Austin and colleagues at Children’s Hospital, Boston and NEDSP, Wellesley, MA, recently reported that the screening program and video significantly increased the number of students seeking help for symptoms of eating disorders. The researchers reported their results at the Academy for Eating Disorders meeting in Vancouver in May.

More than 35,000 students participated

One-hundred and fifty high schools in 30 states administered a short-report questionnaire that included the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-20). More than 35,000 students completed the self-scored questionnaires. The students were advised to seek help if their scores showed a possible eating disorder. The schools were also given NESP educational materials and guidelines for referring at-risk students for assessment and/or treatment. About a month after the initial screening, a follow-up survey was administered to the same students.

Two elements that were important to the results were an educational video provided by NESP and the number of days the informative program was used. Approximately 4 more students per school sought help after seeing the video than at schools where the video wasn’t shown. The schools also reported an increase of 1 student seeking help for each additional day of educational programming.

Nearly 4,000 students from 30 states completed the post-study questionnaires. Among the students, 25% of girls and 13% of boys reported concerns about their dieting practices or had body image problems or reported that their score on the initial screening survey indicated they should seek help for eating disorders symptoms. Among this subset, a greater proportion of boys than girls (31.8% versus 23.4% reported they talked with an adult or began to attend a support group since participating in the screening program. Also within this group, African-American students were more likely than white students to report talking with an adult or beginning to attend a support program as a result of participating in the screening program.

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