Background: Eating disorders (EDs) are complex psychological disorders, with low rates of detection and early intervention. They can lead to significant mental and physical health complications, especially if intervention is delayed. Given high rates of morbidity and mortality, low treatment uptake, and significant rates of relapse, it is important to examine prevention, early intervention, and early recognition initiatives. The aim of this review is to identify and evaluate literature on preventative and early intervention programs in EDs.
Methods: This paper is one of a series of Rapid Reviews, designed to inform the Australian National Eating Disorders Research and Translation Strategy 2021–2031, funded, and released by the Australian Government. To provide a current and rigorous review, peer-reviewed articles between 2009 and 2021 published in English were searched across three databases: ScienceDirect, PubMed and Ovid/Medline. Priority was given to high-level evidence including meta-analyses, systematic reviews, Randomised Control Trials, and large population studies. Findings from selected studies pertaining to prevention and early intervention in EDs were evaluated and are presented in this review.
Results: In total, 130 studies were identified in the current review, 72% relating to prevention and 28% to early intervention. Most programs were theory-driven and targeted one or more ED risk factors such as thin-ideal internalisation and/or body dissatisfaction. There is reasonable evidence to support prevention programs reducing risk factors, particularly as part of school or university-based programs, with established feasibility and relatively high acceptance among students. There is increasing evidence around the use of technology (to increase dissemination potential) and for use of mindfulness approaches (targeting emotional resilience). Few longitudinal studies assessing incident cases following participation in a prevention program exist.
Conclusions: Although several prevention and early intervention programs have been shown to significantly reduce risk factors, promote symptom recognition, and encourage help-seeking behaviour, most of these studies have been conducted in older adolescent and university aged students, past the age of peak ED onset. One of the most targeted risk factors, body dissatisfaction, is found in girls as young as 6 years old, indicating a need for further research implementing prevention initiatives at younger ages. Follow-up research is limited; thus, the long-term efficacy and effectiveness of studied programs is unknown. Greater attention should be paid to the implementation of prevention and early intervention programs in identified high-risk cohorts or diverse groups, where a more targeted approach may be necessary.
- Early intervention
- Eating disorder(s)
- Mental health
- Risk factor(s)