Addressing the gap of early intervention for eating disorders in primary health care

Marcela Radunz, Luke Pritchard, Eloisa Steen, Paul Williamson, Tracey D. Wade

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Aim: Only one in four individuals with eating disorders (EDs) seek help, with many barriers to treatment-seeking present. Placing an early intervention model in primary mental health care settings is one approach to reducing these barriers. To date, only one model (emerge-ED) has been evaluated in the literature. 

Methods: We aimed to replicate findings from the initial emerge-ED evaluation. We report on treatment outcomes in a new cohort and their views on barriers to treatment-seeking. We then examine how this early intervention model in primary health care has evolved to overcome the barriers to treatment delivery cited by health professionals in the initial evaluation. 

Results: Eighty participants commenced treatment between July 2020 and March 2022 and completed a mean of 8.98 sessions, 70 (87.5%) completed >1 sessional measure on ED cognitions and behaviours, but only 31% (n = 24) completed lengthier assessments. Findings replicated initial emerge-ED outcomes, with small to moderate effect size decreases in the ED sessional measure at 70 days since treatment commencement for cognitions (d =.63) and ED behaviours (d =.09.,.69). The most cited barrier by participants was “belief that my problem is not bad enough”, reflective of denial of illness. Lastly, to overcome barriers to treatment delivery clinicians had to deviate from treatment protocols and work collaboratively with other healthcare providers. 

Conclusions: Our findings replicated the initial emerge-ED evaluation and highlight the importance of considering primary health care settings as an essential site in delivering early intervention services for EDs.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
JournalEarly Intervention in Psychiatry
Early online date6 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Feb 2024


  • barriers to treatment-seeking
  • denial
  • early intervention
  • eating disorders
  • primary health care


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