Digital CBT Especially Effective in Treating College Students with Eating Disorders

Digital cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) may be superior to usual in-person interventions when it comes to treating college women with eating disorders.

That’s according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open. The findings suggest there’s an opportunity for providers to use digital CBT to close treatment gaps for that population.

The random clinical trial looked at 690 women with binge-purge eating disorders from 27 US universities. Some participants received digital CBT, while others received usual care.


Women were recruited for the study between January 12, 2014 and June 30, 2016, and data collection wrapped up by November 30, 2018. Researchers followed up with patients over the course of two years to monitor their recovery.

Ultimately, the study found that digital CBT intervention was better than usual care at decreasing eating disorder psychopathology, compensatory behaviors, depression and clinical impairment through long-term follow-up and in realized treatment access. Meanwhile, there was no difference in abstinence from all ED behaviors or academic impairment between the groups, according to the study. 

Considering how prevalent eating disorders are among college women and the treatment roadblocks that exist, the findings support the efficacy of coached, digital CBT interventions for this group.


Researchers did note, however, that digital CBT engagement was low for study participants. But even with poor engagement, digital treatment still delivered superior outcomes.