Characteristics of seeking treatment among U.S. adolescents with eating disorders

Lauren N. Forrest, April R. Smith, Sonja A. Swanson

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Objective: The majority of persons with eating disorders (EDs) do not seek ED treatment, yet little is known about treatment-seeking barriers or facilitators. The aim of the study is to describe the characteristics associated with seeking ED treatment among U.S. adolescents with EDs. Method: Data from a nationally representative cross-sectional study of U.S. adolescents ages 13–18 years were used for these analyses. Specifically, adolescents who met criteria for lifetime EDs (N = 281) were included. Sociodemographic information, characteristics of EDs, psychiatric comorbidities, and other mental health service use were assessed via interview. Results: Only 20% of adolescents sought ED treatment. Females were 2.2 (95% CI 0.8, 6.4) times more likely to seek treatment than males (19.9% vs. 8.9%). Adolescents who met criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa were 2.4 (95% CI 0.9, 6.3) and 1.9 (95% CI 1.0, 3.8) times more likely to seek treatment than adolescents who met criteria for binge-eating disorder (27.5% and 22.3% vs. 11.6%). Specific ED behaviors (restriction and purging), ED-related impairment, and any mental health service use were also associated with adolescent treatment seeking. Discussion: Adolescent treatment seeking was infrequent overall, with individuals with counter-stereotypic ED presentations least likely to have sought treatment. Adolescent treatment seeking could be promoted through increasing awareness among the public and healthcare professionals that EDs affect a heterogeneous group of people. More generally, research involving both treatment-seeking and non-treatment-seeking individuals holds great potential to refine the field's knowledge of ED etiology, prevalence, treatment, and prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)826-833
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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