2021 Eating Disorder Research Roundup

At the end of the year, we often reflect on lessons learned over the past 12 months. Thankfully, 2021 expanded the conversations surrounding eating disorders and mental health. Much like last year, there were many eating disorder-related studies published that focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we reviewed publications to share for the Columbus Park year-end eating disorder research roundup, we highlighted notable COVID-related studies and also expanded beyond to disordered eating and sports injuries, the impact of weight teasing, and more.


Here are some compelling research findings in the eating disorder field from 2021:


The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on eating disorders (EDs) is still being determined. People frequently reported worsening mental health and increased symptoms, particularly for members of at-risk populations (young women, athletes, and parents/caregivers). While the transition to online treatment was challenging, many patients appreciated telehealth alternatives and found them impactful. Research suggests a greater need for specialized ED services as the pandemic continues. (source)


Evidence suggests a relationship between adolescent female sport injury and disordered eating (DE) behaviors, but no relationship between adolescent male sport injury and DE. Thus, there is a need to screen for DE in young athletes. If positive, they should be educated on the risks of DE, including relative energy deficiency, and referred to a specialist for professional help. (source)


Weight teasing is strongly correlated with DE in adolescence and young adulthood regardless of ethnicity/race, socioeconomic status, or gender. For instance, 64.5 percent of young adults who reported being teased engaged in unhealthy weight control behaviors, compared with 47.9 percent of those not teased. Future research should focus on weight stigma and the needs of BIPOC young people as well as those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. (source)


Investigations into online ED communities allowed for a better understanding of compulsive exercise (CE) as a characterizing condition of EDs. Social media posts about CE and EDs were gathered from Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, and online forums over 12 months. Researchers then analyzed 881 posts and identified five common themes, which included: seeking control, but ultimately CE takes hold; burning off binges, but at what expense?; recovery is a battle but worth it; is my exercise healthy?; and frustration with comments about CE. (source)


Evidence suggests a higher level of DE but less help seeking in lower socioeconomic status (SES) individuals. However, research reveals that low SES populations can achieve similar outcomes to other populations when receiving evidence-based ED treatment. (source)


Shame, particularly body shame and shame around eating, is strongly related to the development of EDs. In a meta-analysis, researchers examined findings from 195 studies to determine the connection between shame and ED symptoms. Their results suggest that directly targeting shame in interventions might be highly effective in ED treatment. (source)


A family-based treatment (FBT) stepped-care model for adolescents with anorexia nervosa (AN) resulted in favorable rates of remission. Historically, this method of ED treatment has been underexplored. The aim of this study was to determine the effectiveness as it relates to remission at end-of-treatment, and the findings offer support for future clinical trials of stepped-care models for adolescents with AN. (source)


If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to our team at info@columbuspark.com to discuss treatment options, including our comprehensive DBT-ED.