Update: Identifying Eating Disorders in the Military

Two University of Kansas researchers are developing a screening tool to better detect eating disorders among the US military (University of Kansas website, news.ku.edu/2019/04/18). With a 3-year, $1.7 million grant from the Department of Defense, Drs. Kelsie Forbush, associate professor of psychology, and Alesha Doan, professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, also hope to identify organizational barriers to identifying and treating soldiers with eating disorders.

Dr. Forbush noted that active military face a range of dangers on the battlefield, and the risks of later post-traumatic stress are well documented.  However, much less is known about other elements at play, including constant pressure to meet fitness standards, physical requirements to enlist in the service, and expectation for leaders to maintain levels of fitness as role models for their troops. All these can also promote eating disorders.  Dr. Forbush added that few of us are aware that the military has rigorous standards “that require military personnel to meet specific body mass and other physical fitness standards.” And there are more realities that can lead to disordered eating among servicemen and women—such as ready-to-eat, calorie-dense meals, and high-calorie cafeteria-style “comfort foods,” which may cause weight gain.

The researchers are working to improve the ability to predict which soldiers will recover or relapse from an eating disorder, with the hopes that their results will not only help in the understanding of the scope and effects of eating disorders in post-911 veterans but also demonstrate the need to develop eating disorder programs in the VA system.

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