Recruitment, adherence and attrition challenges in internet-based indicated prevention programs for eating disorders: lessons learned from a randomised controlled trial of ProYouth OZ

Kathina Ali, Daniel B. Fassnacht, Louise M. Farrer, Elizabeth Rieger, Markus Moessner, Stephanie Bauer, Kathleen M. Griffiths

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Background: Growing evidence supports the effectiveness of Internet-based prevention programs for eating disorders, but the adjunctive benefit of synchronous peer support has yet to be investigated. In the current study, a randomised controlled trial was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of an indicated Internet-based prevention program (ProYouth OZ) with and without peer-to-peer support in reducing disordered eating behaviours and attitudes. Method: Fifty young adults (18–25 years) with eating disorder symptoms were randomised to one of three study conditions: (1) ProYouth OZ (without peer-to-peer support), (2) ProYouth OZ Peers (with peer-to-peer support), and (3) a waitlist control group. Outcomes were assessed at three different time points. Eating disorder symptoms (primary outcome) were measured with the Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire. Results: Of 415 screened participants, 73 (17.6%) were eligible and 213 (51.3%) excluded due to severe eating disorder symptoms. Fifteen participants (30%) completed the post-intervention survey. Of the two intervention groups, 20.6% failed to access any component of the program. Of 17 ProYouth OZ Peers participants, 58.8% attended at least one chat session, 20% attended 2–5 sessions, and 11.8% attended all six sessions. Due to limited outcome data, it was not possible to statistically examine between-group differences in outcomes. Visual inspection of individual profiles revealed that both ProYouth OZ Peers participants who completed the post-intervention survey showed a decrease in disordered eating compared with only one of the six completers in ProYouth OZ. Conclusion: Findings highlight the challenges of trialling Internet-based eating disorder prevention programs in the community. The study identified a large group of emerging adults with eating disorders who were interested in an Internet-based program, suggesting a high level of unmet need. Future research on synchronous peer-to-peer support in Internet-based prevention for eating disorders is warranted. Further studies are required to identify optimal strategies for reaching this population (e.g., online vs. offline) and evaluating the effectiveness of a range of strategies for promoting engagement. Finally, there is an urgent need to develop innovative widely accessible interventions for individuals who experience clinically relevant eating disorder symptomatology but may not be ready or able to seek professional face-to-face treatment. Trial registration: ACTRN12615001250527, Registered 16 November 2015,

Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Eating Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2022


  • Barriers
  • Body image
  • Digital health
  • Eating disorder literacy
  • Help-seeking
  • Mental health
  • Online intervention
  • Peer support
  • Stigma


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