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Background: Although preventive interventions for eating disorders in general have shown promise, interventions specifically targeting individuals at risk for anorexia nervosa (AN) are lacking.

Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the efficacy of a guided, indicated web-based prevention program for women at risk for AN.

Methods: We conducted a randomized controlled efficacy trial for women at risk for AN. Assessments were carried out at baseline (before the intervention), after the intervention (10 weeks after baseline), and at 6- and 12-month follow-ups (FUs). A total of 168 women with low body weight (17.5 kg/m2≤BMI≤19 kg/m2) and high weight concerns or with normal body weight (19 kg/m2<BMI≤25 kg/m2), high weight concerns, and high restrained eating were recruited from 3 German universities as well as on the web and randomized to Student Bodies-AN (SB-AN; intervention group [IG]) or a wait-list control group (CG). The exclusion criteria were current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition–based full-syndrome eating disorders and serious medical or mental problems. The interventions were a cognitive-behavioral guided web-based prevention program (SB-AN) over 10 weeks (IG) and a wait-list CG. The primary outcomes were clinically significant changes in disordered eating attitudes and behaviors and change in BMI at 12-month FU in the group of participants who were underweight. The secondary outcomes were new onset of eating disorders, symptoms of disordered eating, and associated psychopathology.

Results: Data were available for 81.5% (137/168) of the women after the intervention and for 69% (116/168) of the women at 12-month FU. At 12-month FU, the IG participants showed larger decreases in Eating Disorder Examination total scores (38/48, 79% vs 33/58, 57%) than the CG participants and the IG participants who were underweight also showed larger clinically relevant increases in BMI (15/31, 49% vs 10/32, 32%) than the CG participants, but these differences were not significant. In addition, after the intervention and at 12-month FU, we found a significant increase in continuously measured BMI for the participants who were underweight and significant improvements in disordered eating attitudes and behaviors (eg, restrained eating as well as weight and shape concerns). At all time points, the rates of new-onset eating disorder cases were (nonsignificantly) lower in the IG than in the CG and the reductions in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition–based eating disorder syndromes were (nonsignificantly) higher in the IG than in the CG.

Conclusions: SB-AN is the first preventive intervention shown to significantly reduce specific risk factors for, and symptoms of, AN and shows promise for reducing full-syndrome AN onset. 

Journal Link: Journal of Medical Internet Research

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Journal of Medical Internet Research