National Eating Disorders Association

Eating Disorders Research Gets a New Direction

Diana Denza, Communications Associate

Considered the deadliest mental illness in the United States, clinically-significant eating disorders will affect approximately 20 million women and 10 million men at some point in their lives. And according to recent statistics, 20 million people in the European Union alone have an eating disorder, with a staggering cost of €1 trillion per year.

Despite the large number of people who suffer from these potentially-fatal illnesses, there continues to be a desperate need for more research and evidence-based treatments. But that requires funding that eating disorders just don’t receive. 

For example, 7.2% of mental health research funding dollars in the UK go to depression and another 4.9% go to psychosis. Meanwhile, eating disorders only receive .4% of this funding. 

Here in the US, mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia receive up to 13 times the amount of research funding than eating disorders. With so little funding going to research, progress has been unbearably slow – with deadly consequences for those who are suffering. 

In an effort to fill these gaps, a UK National Institute for Health Research-supported initiative set a much-needed 10-point research agenda for eating disorders. In the August 2016 edition of The Lancet, Dutch researchers Eric F van Furth, Angela van der Meer, and Katherine Cowan reported on these efforts.  

Individuals directly affected by eating disorders, as well as their families and clinicians who treat eating disorders, were invited to submit questions through a webportal. From these submissions, researchers set the top ten priorities. 

These ten questions set the stage for future research by placing an emphasis on treatment, prevention, and how carers can influence the recovery process. The questions are:

  1. Which factors influence the duration of recovery and the possibility of complete recovery?
  2. Which patient and disorder-related features can be used to provide more personalized treatment?
  3. Is it more effective to address the eating disorder symptoms first or the underlying problems?
  4. What is the most effective treatment (and order of treatment) for patients with an eating disorder and a co-morbid disorder?
  5. Which treatment setting (outpatient, at home, day treatment, inpatient or residential, with or without parents) provides the best treatment outcome?
  6. How can loved ones contribute to the recovery process of the eating disorder?
  7. Are there specific risk factors for the development of an eating disorder, and if so, how can prevention target these?
  8. What is the influence of the quality of the working relationship between the treatment team and the patient on treatment outcome?
  9. Is it better to use a protocol based on a guideline or to tailor treatment to the individual?
  10. What causes the need for self-destructive behavior in patients with an eating disorder?

Now, researchers need the dollars to go with this new direction. Since launching in 2013, NEDA has awarded $1 million in research grants through the Feeding Hope Fund, but that is just a drop in the bucket of what is needed to create a world without eating disorders. 

Take action: Learn more about ways to support NEDA’s Feeding Hope Fund here

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