The U.S. health care system needs more trained professionals and prevention specialists to take on the often overlooked―and sometimes deadly―issue of eating disorders.

“Eating disorders need to be higher up on the public health agenda,” said S. Bryn Austin, associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and director of fellowship research training in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. Her lecture, “Getting Eating Disorders Prevention on the Public Health Agenda: A Strategic Approach to Prevention Science, Pipelines and Workforce Training,” was held on July 23 as part of the summer’s “Hot Topics” lecture series at HSPH.

Austin presented data showing a dearth of studies on preventive strategies and clinically proven interventions in the scientific literature on eating disorders. For instance, in a 2012 study she found that only 4% of nearly 1,000 studies in two of the leading eating disorder-related journals were prevention-oriented. “Clearly there’s a gap in the training pipeline. Too few prevention scientists are entering the field,” Austin told the audience. “Public health schools are leaders in training the nation’s top prevention scientists, but they are laggards in training in eating disorders,” Austin said. “We are going to have to change this before we can make meaningful headway in preventing eating disorders and related problems with weight, shape, and appearance that affect too many millions of youth and adults.”

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