Seeking Answers: Eating Disorders and Obesity

The SunblindWe are living in an age of amplified contention. Anger can be like a muscle that gets stronger when we exercise it. If you doubt that, take a long look at what social media amplifies. So seeing passionate contention at the intersection of obesity and eating disorders might be unsurprising. But it’s not especially helpful if we want to discern what the interaction between these two serious conditions might be. For people seeking answers regarding eating disorders and obesity, research fueled by scientific curiosity is essential.

Yesterday in Obesity Reviews, Hiba Jebeile and colleagues published a systematic review and meta-analysis on this subject. They found that, if anything, when people receive good behavioral care for obesity, a modest reduction in symptoms of eating disorders can result.

Nonetheless, they recommend vigilance:

“A small subset of participants may experience disordered eating; therefore, monitoring for the emergence of symptoms is important.”

Sorting Through 12,023 Publications

If nothing else, Jebeile et al were thorough. They screened 12,023 publications on behavioral weight management trials and found 49 that met criteria for inclusion in their analysis. Among those 49 studies, 14 of them reported the prevalence or episodes of binge eating. In all of those studies, researchers observed a reduction of binge eating. In their meta-analysis, Jebeile et al found a pooled reduction in global eating disorder scores sustained through the latest follow-up reported in these studies.

This research, as is always the case, has its limitations. Jebeile et al discuss those limitations at great length. Thus they offer good perspective on the need for further research:

“Future research should seek to identify which participants are most likely to experience this increase in eating disorder risk, that is, whether there are certain risk factors that predict this and the most effective assessment methods for clinical practice.”

Seeking Answers or Angst?

It’s gratifying to see researchers seeking answers to important questions about the intersection of eating disorders and obesity. These can each be very serious conditions that profoundly affect people living with them. And they can interact.

We also, unfortunately, see people promoting angst about these questions, expressing anger that academics might be working with the American Academy of Pediatrics to resolve questions about eating disorders and obesity.

In this age of contention, we have plenty of tools for amplifying anger. Seeking answers is much harder work. But it is far more rewarding for all of us.

Click here for the new publication by Jebeile et al. For perspective on how social media works to promote chaos and angst, click here and have a listen or read the transcript.

The Sunblind, painting by Juan Gris / WikiArt

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March 16, 2023