UPDATE: COVID-19 and its Effects on ED Research

The risks and effects of COVID-19 have reached far into the world of eating disorders research, according to three well-known ED researchers, Drs. Ruth Striegel Weissman, Kelly L. Klump, and Jennifer Rose (Int J Eat Disord. May 1, 2020).

The three researchers noted that ED research is already particularly susceptible to disruption due to its focus on individuals who are physically and emotionally vulnerable. The trio invited ED researchers from editorial boards and scientific organizations to comment about the virus’s current and future impact on their organizations’ ED research. They also asked participants to suggest effective strategies for conducting and supporting research during and after the pandemic.

Many of the study’s 187 participants had moved their studies online or had completely shut down their research, at least for the time being.  Overall the respondents also reported having high levels of stress. This was particularly true for individuals with temporary or non-tenured positions. (This was in direct contrast to stress among respondents with permanent positions.)  Only a few respondents (14%) planned to make no changes to their future research practices; more than half of all respondents indicated that it was too soon to tell what the future of their research projects might be. About a third (30%) of those in permanent positions vs. those in temporary positions expected to make changes to future research projects because of the coronavirus. About half of the respondents had moved their projects online, while 20% to 40% of projects had been shut down due to COVID-19.

The study was anonymous, and only a single overall response was allowed from each group. In addition, the survey was voluntary and included a consent statement.

Effects differed with permanent vs. temporary positions

Far more women than men participated in the survey (women, n=141, or 75.4%, vs. men n=43; 23%). Men were more likely than women to have held a permanent position within their organization.

By far the most unsolicited comments were about finding and using technologic solutions to continue their research. A smaller number of comments addressed preparing key individuals to form research teams to learn better ways to use technology tools, and ways to keep in contact with study participants to reduce dropout.

Most respondents were female. For most of the respondents the pandemic had disrupted at least part of their research programs, but about half of the respondents reported they were able to move at least part of their programs online.  The authors also noted that up to 40% of the ED projects were stopped because of the effects of the pandemic. Another finding was that research activities that were most challenging because of the coronavirus had produced high levels of stress, starting at the onset of the pandemic. A third finding was the effect that the virus had on respondents’ future careers. This was particularly marked among those holding non-permanent positions compared with researchers with permanent positions. Overall, women reported greater concerns about their future careers than did men. Instead, men mostly concentrated on problems with staffing.

The authors also received a surprisingly large number of comments in response to the open-ended questions. Overall, respondents expressed having a positive outlook and pledged to carry on with tasks such as learning new skills or learning grant writing while the pandemic continued. The trio of researchers added that COVID-19 has “thwarted opportunities that cannot be overcome, despite the ED professionals’ good intentions or positive self-talk.” The authors called for support for new ED scholars and additional resources for ED researchers and their work.

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