Based on recent findings, bulimic teens make a speedier recovery when their parents are involved in the healing process. This contradicts the previously-held belief that family members should be excluded from treatment and counselling sessions.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California-San Francisco and represents the largest randomized survey focusing on teenagers suffering from bulimia nervosa. The results were published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).
The experiment was conducted on 130 bulimic subjects (aged between 12 to 18), who had indulged in binge eating and purging once or several times a week, in the last 6 months.
The participants received either cognitive-behavioral therapy or family-based treatment, while a third smaller group was given nonspecific treatment (supportive psychotherapy).
Cognitive therapy works directly with the individuals, allowing them to understand the motivations of their actions. On the other hand, family-based treatment helps parents understand the condition and encourage their children to adopt healthier eating habits.
There were 18 outpatient sessions, which took place for a period of 6 months. Results were recorded before the experiment, at the end of the treatment, and after another 6 and 12 months. The patients were assesed through the Eating Disorder Examination, in order to establish which of them had refrained from binge eating and purging for 4 weeks before the evaluation.
Findings showed that, at the end of the trial, teenagers who had received family-based treatments had higher abstinence rates (39%) than those who had been given cognitive-behavioral therapy (20%). At the 6-month evaluation, differences persisted (44% versus 25%), but they were slightly lower after a year (49% versus 32%).
Overall, it was established that family-based therapy tends to be more effective than cognitive-behavior treatments, although its success tends to diminish with the passage of time.
As a result, experts have concluded that it is important to give parents a more active role in supporting their offspring’s battle against eating disorders. Such involvement can assist adolescents in making greater progress.
This is the third clinical trial that has analyzed the prevalence of bulimia among teens, and its findings seem to be in contradiction with prior practices.
Health practitioners have historically regarded parents as contributing factors to the kids’ perturbed eating habits. Therefore, psychiatrists have made it an unwritten rule to treat bulimic teens individually, while excluding any form of parental engagement.
However, according to researcher Daniel Le Grange, benefiting from support from their family allows adolescents to move more easily past the psychological turmoil which has caused their erratic behavior.
Such findings are vital, especially given the fact that around 50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys resort to unhealthy ways of controlling weight. These include fasting, skipping meals, smoking, purging and taking laxatives.
Bulimia is the second most frequent eating disorder among teens: about 1 to 3 percent of adolescents suffer from it, and more than 5% of bulimics die prematurely, as a result of their condition. Warning signs that should alert family members are: purgative use, body dysmorphia, constant weight-loss efforts, and obsession with food.
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