A pilot multiple-baseline study of a mobile cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of eating disorders in university students.
OBJECTIVE: Eating disorders (EDs) are serious psychiatric disorders associated with substantial morbidity and mortality that are prevalent among university students. Because many students do not receive treatment due to lack of access on university campuses, mobile-health (mHealth) adaptations of evidence-based treatments represent an opportunity to increase treatment accessibility and engagement. The purpose of this study was to test the initial efficacy of Building Healthy Eating and Self-Esteem Together for University Students (BEST-U), which is a 10-week mHealth self-guided cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT-gsh) app that is paired with a brief 25-30-min weekly telehealth coaching, for reducing ED psychopathology in university students.
METHOD: A non-concurrent multiple-baseline design (N = 8) was used to test the efficacy of BEST-U for reducing total ED psychopathology (primary outcome), ED-related behaviors and cognitions (secondary outcomes), and ED-related clinical impairment (secondary outcome). Data were examined using visual analysis and Tau-BC effect-size calculations.
RESULTS: BEST-U significantly reduced total ED psychopathology and binge eating, excessive exercise, and restriction (effect sizes ranged from -0.39 to -0.92). Although body dissatisfaction decreased, it was not significant. There were insufficient numbers of participants engaging in purging to evaluate purging outcomes. Clinical impairment significantly reduced from pre-to-post-treatment.
DISCUSSION: The current study provided initial evidence that BEST-U is a potentially efficacious treatment for reducing ED symptoms and ED-related clinical impairment. Although larger-scale randomized controlled trials are needed, BEST-U may represent an innovative, scalable tool that could reach greater numbers of underserved university students than traditional intervention-delivery models.
PUBLIC SIGNIFICANCE: Using a single-case experimental design, we found evidence for the initial efficacy of a mobile guided-self-help cognitive-behavioral therapy program for university students with non-low weight binge-spectrum eating disorders. Participants reported significant reductions in ED symptoms and impairment after completion of the 10-week program. Guided self-help programs show promise for filling an important need for treatment among university students with an ED.
The International journal of eating disorders
Humans; Universities; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; Feeding and Eating Disorders; Binge-Eating Disorder; Treatment Outcome; Bulimia
BEST-U; Building Healthy Eating and Self-esteem Together for University Students; cognitive-behavioral therapy; eating disorders; mobile health; multiple-baseline design; single-case experimental design; university students
Bohrer BK, Chen Y, Christensen KA, et al. A pilot multiple-baseline study of a mobile cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of eating disorders in university students. Int J Eat Disord. 2023;56(8):1623-1636. doi:10.1002/eat.23987