Targeting Eating Disorders and Obesity among Female College Students

Future studies might help identify
a specific group at risk.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
January/February Volume 24, Number 1
©2013 Gürze Books

A prevention program designed to target both eating disorders and obesity among female college students produced a 60% reduction in onset of symptoms of an eating disorder after a 2-year follow-up. Despite this, there were few other significant changes between women who participated in the intervention versus a control group.

Dr. Eric Stice and colleagues designed a study to test the effects of providing a 4-hour, group-based prevention program versus an educational brochure (control group) in 398 female college students at risk of eating disorders and obesity because of body image concerns. The study group was randomized to the Healthy Weight 2 prevention program, which promotes lasting healthy improvements in dietary intake and physical activity, along with nutrition education (J Consult Clin Psychol., Dec 10, 2012 [E-pub ahead of print]). The control group received information about eating disorders and obesity in an educational brochure, with no further interactions.

At 1- and 2-year follow-up, the women who had the 4-hour intervention had significantly less body dissatisfaction and a lower incidence of eating disorder symptoms. However, body mass index (BMI), depressive symptoms, periods of dieting, caloric intake, physical activity, or onset of obesity were not significant between the two groups.

The authors concluded that despite the 60% reduction in onset of eating disorder symptoms, healthful changes between the treatment and control groups were slight. One theory was that adding the segment on principles of nutrition science may have weakened the intervention. Students who had elevated eating disorder symptoms and higher BMIs at the beginning of the study demonstrated the greatest overall change at the end of the 2-year follow-up, suggesting that it might be useful to focus preventive efforts on such individuals in future studies.

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