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Study: People With Eating Disorders Infrequently Seek Help for Symptoms

July 18, 2019

A first-of-its-kind study by Yale and University at Albany researchers found that people with eating disorders infrequently seek help for their symptoms or concerns.

The study of a nationally-representative sample of 36,309 adults, published online July 16 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, reported that a relatively low frequency of adults with an eating disorder diagnosis (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder) sought help for their symptoms or concerns.

Overall, only about half of people reported seeking any form of help. Differences were observed across the different eating disorders: 34.5 percent of adults diagnosed with anorexia sought help, compared to 62.6 percent of those with bulimia nervosa, and 49 percent with binge-eating disorder.

Overall, fewer than 30 percent reported seeking help from a counselor or psychologist and fewer than 20 percent reported receiving medication for their symptoms.

The study also found that men and members of ethnic and racial minority groups were even less likely to seek help for their eating disorders. “Eating disorders are commonly portrayed as a ‘female disorder,’ which might contribute to underuse or delays in help-seeking behavior in men owing to their own or their providers’ under-recognition of eating disorder symptoms,” the authors wrote.

The authors concluded that these new findings “underscore the need for improved clinical training and public health messages to facilitate earlier recognition of eating disorders by health care workers and the public.”

Carlos M. Grilo, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and of Psychology at Yale School of Medicine and the study's senior author said, “These new findings are concerning as they reveal substantial disparities in treatment seeking and utilization by men and members of minority groups. Moreover, these findings are unfortunate because research has identified a number of psychological and pharmacological treatments that can effectively help many people suffering from eating disorders.

Jaime Coffino, MPH, MA, from the University at Albany was the study's first author. The co-author was Tomoko Udo, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy, Management and Behavior, University at Albany.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on July 18, 2019