University of Oregon

Department of Human Physiology Graduate Studies in Athletic Training and Sports Medicine

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Evidence Based Practice: Are Eating Disorder Prevention Programs Effective?

Lisa Langmesser MS, ATC

Reference Citation: Fingeret M, Warren C, Cepeda-Benito A, Gleaves D. Eating Disorder Prevention Research: A Meta-Analysis. Eating Disorders. 2006;14:191-213.

Clinical Questions:
  1. Does presenting educational material on eating disorders produce iatrogenic (harmful due to the intervention) effects on eating attitudes and behaviors?
  2. Does targeting specific populations with eating disorder prevention prove more beneficial than targeting general populations?
  3. Which outcome variables are most affected by intervention efforts?
  4. To what degree can interventions effectively influence behavioral outcome variables?

Data Sources: Studies included in the meta-analysis were found using PsycInfo, Web of Science, Dissertation Abstracts International and ERIC. Studies were also found using the reference lists from searched articles, and by contacting researchers in the field for unpublished studies. The search terms used were eating disorders, prevention, intervention, eating, attitudes, and behaviors. These terms were used in various combinations in the search to find appropriate articles.

Study Selection: Only empirical studies that tested interventions focused on reducing the risk of eating disorders or improving protective factors were included. These studies also had to include a non-clinical sample and a comparison group. Any studies that did not report data for a control group, did not report standard deviations, or only presented adjusted means were excluded since there was not sufficient data to determine an effect size. Due to the small number of studies with male subjects, and the differences in eating disorder risk between males and females, only studies with female participants were analyzed.

Conclusions: Currently, evidence supports the potential benefits of eating disorder prevention programs for targeted populations, specifically populations already demonstrating signs of an eating disorder. There is also evidence that eating disorder prevention programs successfully increase the participant’s knowledge of eating disorders. Limited evidence also suggests small improvements on dieting behaviors and general eating pathology for a range of population groups. Due to the exclusion of specific symptoms that signal an eating disorder from research assessments, accurate conclusions regarding the actual prevention of eating disorders resulting directly from eating disorder prevention programs cannot be made.