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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Iowa Study Evaluates Services and Programs Available to Treat Eating Disorders

Recent research from the University of Iowa College of Public Health indicates that a lack of awareness about eating disorders as well as limited treatment options in Iowa are obstacles for those suffering from these conditions.

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[Photo: Ms. Kimberly A.S. Merchant]

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), more than 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States suffer from an eating disorder at some time in their life. In addition, as many as 25 million struggle with disordered eating and sub-clinical eating disorders.

Ms. Kimberly A.S. Merchant, research associate in the UI’s department of health management and policy and lead investigator on the study, says that eating disorders are medical and mental health issues and a public health concern. “The care system for those with eating disorders in Iowa is clearly inadequate,” she says, “but there are organizations within the state that are capable and willing to work together to promote prevention and improve treatment.”

Investigators at the UI conducted 83 formal interviews and participants were asked to self-identify themselves in one of the following categories: provider of healthcare services; family of someone who has had or has an eating disorder; patient – either recovered or still struggling; other, such as school counselor, dentist; 22 participants indicated they were a combination.

The data collected from the interviews indicates overall education about eating disorders, including signs and symptoms, as an area of need.

Providers who participated in this study stated they are unaware who among their peers works with eating disorders and where within the state to appropriately refer patients. Families and patients indicated they didn’t know where to turn when confronted with the possibility of an eating disorder.

According to Ms. Merchant, the purpose of this needs assessment is to provide data and evidence via qualitative study that informs future strategic action within the state of Iowa to improve and expand programs and services that increase awareness and prevention of eating disorders as well as treatment options.