Researchers probed the barriers preventing young adults with eating disorders from seeking treatment

In the U.S., tens of millions of Americans suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. While many sufferers of both genders remain undiagnosed, some may be seeking treatment intervention for their condition too late, a new study finds.

According to researchers at Flinders University, a study of 291 young adults in Australia, aged 18-25, led to that conclusion through data collected and analyzed from an online survey. The results appeared in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

For researchers at Flinders University, their primary objective was to probe attitudes, intentions, and behaviors associated with the seeking of treatment intervention for their eating disorder. In their investigation, they would explore perceived barriers or concerns inhibiting young adults from intervention.

“Overall, 291 young adults with varying levels of eating disorder symptoms completed measures of disordered eating, weight or shape concerns, help‐seeking barriers, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors,” the findings state.

The participants were split into four subgroups, based on their symptoms. Each group was labeled on whether they exhibited: anorexia nervosa (AN) symptoms, bulimia nervosa (BN) symptoms, binge-eating disorder (BED) symptoms, or other symptoms of an eating disorder not otherwise specified.

So, what was inhibiting the participants from seeking intervention for their eating disorder? In the findings, researchers unveiled a variety of barriers. First, many of the participants cited fear of lacking control over their weight as a contributing factor. Other barriers included denialism, fear of embarrassment, and the belief that one should solve their own adversities. All of which delays intervention for eating disorder treatment.

“Despite the belief that help‐seeking is useful, only a minority of participants with elevated symptoms, namely those with AN, BN, and BED symptoms, believed they needed help,” the study’s co-authors affirmed in the findings.

“Across the sample, the most frequently cited barriers to seeking help for eating disorder symptoms were: concern for others, self‐sufficiency, fear of losing control, denial and failure to perceive the severity of the illness, and stigma and shame.”

In light of these findings, mental health literacy, particularly on the topic of eating disorders, should be more prevalent among young adults, in both potential sufferers and individuals at risk.

Image courtesy of iStock
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