Digital Apps Can Help Yield Better Outcomes for Eating Disorder Patients

Patients recovering from eating disorders may benefit when traditional treatment is supplemented with the use of apps, a new study reports.

The results, which were published by the American Journal of Psychiatry, could be of interest to eating disorder recovery providers looking for assistance in delivering better patient outcomes.

For the study, researchers followed 225 individuals with eating disorders over 52 weeks. The goal was to see how they responded to different forms of recovery assistance, namely standard stand-alone cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) versus CBT combined with guided self-help delivered through an app.

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Results showed that patients who supplemented CBT with an app reported substantially lower rates of unhealthy eating practices such as binging compared to their stand-alone CBT counterparts.

Patients in the combined group also experienced higher rates of remission from unhealthy eating practices compared to CBT patients (56.7% to 30%). They were less likely to vomit, take laxatives or exercise excessively to lose weight, according to the study.

All the patients in the study sought help at an integrated health care system run by Kaiser Permanente in its Pacific Northwest region. Participants were nearly equally divided between the two groups, with 114 in the combined group and 111 in the control group.

Patients in the combined group received guided assistance from the smartphone app Noom Monitor, in addition to receiving traditional CBT.

Noom is a New York City-based health and wellness weight coaching company that helps users better control their eating habits. Noom Monitor is a tool that lets users track meals, binges, purges and other activity, while also setting them up with a trained coach.

Patients who received CBT and app assistance were administered eight telemedicine sessions by health coaches over 12 weeks, and were assessed at intervals of four, eight, 12, 26 and 52 weeks.

The findings might make the case for digital self-help services to be adopted amongst eating disorder recovery providers, who operate more than 400 centers in the U.S. and last year collected over $1 billion in revenue, according to market research firm IBISWorld.

“These results suggest that CBT … plus Noom Monitor delivered via telemedicine by routine-practice health coaches in a nonacademic health care system yields reductions in symptoms and impairment over 52 weeks compared with standard care,” the report noted.

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