Significance of Early Intervention
With the highest mortality rate of mental health illnesses, eating disorders can lead to several physical health complications. These can be prevented and significantly reduced with the proper care at the appropriate time. Eating disorders are the third most chronic illness among adolescents, and they can become more treatment-resistant the longer it goes untreated. Young women struggling with eating disorders have a mortality rate that is 12 times higher than average for that age group and gender. Often, it is challenging to understand the severity and gravity of this illness. Thus, it is essential to implement screenings and psychoeducation at the right time in an individual’s life to prevent long-term complications. The average age of onset is 18-24, making settings such as pediatric care, primary care, high schools, and colleges very critical places to implement effective interventions and screening tools.²
In a study conducted in 1997, researchers had a sample of patients who were less than 18 years old at onset. Patients who were diagnosed with anorexia for less than three years were a part of the “early intervention” group, those who were diagnosed for more than three years were part of the “late intervention” group, and those with an onset after the age of 18 were part of the “late-onset” group. In comparing outcomes for the two groups across either family therapy or individual treatment, 60% of the early intervention group had “good” outcomes at their 5-year follow-up, whereas only 30% of the late intervention group at their 5-year follow-up. Their results also suggest a family-based intervention early on in their disorder predicts greater long-term outcomes.¹ Research has shown that adolescents with anorexia who engage in a family-based treatment for their eating disorder within the first three years of onset have a greater likelihood of recovery.
Early Detection in Primary Care Settings
Research shows that patients with eating disorders reached out to their primary care physicians at a higher frequency five years before their eating disorder diagnosis. These frequent visits could signal physicians to inquire further about certain eating disorders’ behavioral and physical symptoms. Physical symptoms that could indicate the onset of an eating disorder include menstrual irregularities, hair loss, chronic fatigue, dental issues, persistent sore throat, abdominal pain, significant weight loss, preoccupation with body shape or size, and more.³,⁴