More people are dying from eating disorders than any other psychiatric disorder, and one Cornell College professor has discovered a way to help women by significantly reducing eating disorder symptoms in those who are struggling.
Professor of Psychology Melinda Green and her team recently examined 47 women in Eastern Iowa who suffered from eating disorder symptoms, recruiting women through social media, fliers posted in practitioners’ offices, local schools, and announcements in local media. The researchers used what’s called a dissonance-based eating disorder program.
"Our intervention encourages women to criticize media messages which teach women and girls that we must be thin to be considered beautiful," said Green. "We also teach women and girls how to combat societal messages which teach us to define our worth in terms of our appearances."
The results from the four-week program reveal the importance of this type of treatment to help women.
"Women who took part in the program showed fewer eating disorder symptoms. Women also showed lower levels of anxiety and fewer negative emotions," Green said. "Women showed higher self-esteem and greater satisfaction with their bodies. They were less likely to idealize a thin body-type and less likely to define their self worth in terms of their appearance. They were also less likely to show several cardiac risk factors associated with eating disorders."
Green has worked for nearly a decade to research eating disorders. In her work, she has discovered a connection between eating disorders and cardiac risks, identifying markers of cardiac risk which worsen with eating disorder symptoms and improve with treatment. Her research has important implications for learning how to prevent and treat cardiac-related deaths in eating disorder patients. The results of this new study go even further to improve treatment and prevention options.
"Our work has a direct impact on the lives of women in Eastern Iowa since the program improves the lives of women who are struggling," Green said. "On a national and an international level, our results help to inform the best practices in eating disorder treatment and prevention. We are working alongside leading scientists across the world to improve this treatment and prevention paradigm to make it as effective as possible."
The psychology professor is currently conducting a treatment and prevention study and plans to pursue funding for another project to begin in the summer of 2017 to continue to refine this program. She consistently works with undergraduate students at Cornell College, who are involved in all phases of the research from revising the treatment programs to co-authoring manuscripts.
The Cornell College professor is also putting her own work into practice as she treats patients through a new online eating disorder prevention and treatment program.
Green is working with Tanager Place in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to continue her work. The group is currently fundraising to create a new, much-needed eating disorder treatment center for patients.