Digital Mental Health Interventions for Eating Disorders Among Adolescents

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New research finds whole-family collaborative care digital mental health interventions help manage disordered eating behaviors in adolescents aged 13-17.

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A new study highlighted the efficacy of collaborative care digital mental health interventions (DMHIs) in indirectly managing eating disorder symptoms among adolescents.1,2

Investigators analyzed 689 adolescents aged 13 to 17 who initiated mental health care with Bend Health between January 1st, 2023, and October 1st, 2023; engaged in at least 1 session with a coach or therapist during the study period; and finished the eating behaviors assessment before baseline.

Results showed that 61.4% of adolescents with disordered eating behaviors at baseline showed significant improvements in those behaviors after a median of 2.23 months in care; longer durations of care resulted in larger improvements in disordered eating behaviors. Approximately 95.9% of adolescents with eating disorder symptoms also participated in care programs targeting comorbid mental health disorders, predominantly anxiety and depression.

"Observing 61% of teens with these issues make significant progress under Bend Health's care is more than just a number—it's a testament to the transformative power of compassionate and collaborative mental health care," said Monika Roots, MD, FAPA, cofounder and president at Bend Health. "We can create positive downstream outcomes for teens with disordered eating. It's critical that we make impactful solutions like Bend Health accessible to all to foster happier, healthier kids as well as resilient families."1

To assess eating behaviors, all adolescent members complete the SCOFF, a validated questionnaire in which participants respond “yes” or “no” to 5 questions about disordered eating behaviors. The 5 items are: (1) Do you make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full? (2) Do you worry that you have lost control over how much you eat? (3) Have you recently lost more than one stone (14 lbs) in a 3-month period? (4) Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are too thin? (5) Would you say that food dominates your life? SCOFF scores were then calculated by compiling the number of “yes” responses, and members with a SCOFF score of 2 or higher on their baseline assessment were included in the “elevated SCOFF score” group, while members with a score of less than 2 were included in the “nonelevated SCOFF score group.”

Approximately 75.5% (n=520) had nonelevated SCOFF scores, and 24.5% (n=169) had elevated SCOFF scores. Of participants with nonelevated SCOFF scores, 13.7% (n=71) responded “yes” to the question about control, and 9.2% (n=48) responded “yes” to the question about believing themselves to be fat. The elevated SCOFF score group was predominantly female and had higher rates of depressive disorders.

“This finding adds to the body of literature suggesting that the overlap between disordered eating behaviors and internalizing problems such as anxiety and depression may have similar underlying constructs and thus may warrant similar treatment,” concluded Huffman et al.

Our February theme is Eating Disorders, which will include expert discussions on identifying, treating, and managing common eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

How do you address eating disorders in your patients? Let us know! Write to us now at PTEditor@MMHGroup.com!

References

1. Huffman LG, Lawrence-Sidebottom D, Beam AB, et al. Improvements in adolescents’ disordered eating behaviors in a collaborative care digital mental health intervention: retrospective observational study. JMIR Form Res. 2024;8:e54253.

2. New research demonstrates promising reduction in disordered eating behaviors among adolescents through digital mental health support. News release. PR Newswire. February 2, 2024. Accessed February 8, 2024. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-research-demonstrates-promising-reduction-in-disordered-eating-behaviors-among-adolescents-through-digital-mental-health-support-302051436.html

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