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Parental Involvement Improves Bulimia Care

Mother daughterA randomized control trail for adolescent bulimia nervosa demonstrates the value of mobilizing parents to help an adolescent overcome the disorder.

In the study parental involvement doubled the percentage of teens that were able to abstain from binge eating and purging after six months.

In the September issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, a team based at the University of Chicago Medical Center show that almost 40 percent of participants in family-based treatment had stopped binging and purging compared to only 18 percent of those who received supportive psychotherapy, the standard therapy.

Six-months after treatment, almost 30 percent of participants who received family-based treatment were still abstinent compared to only 10 percent of participants who received supportive psychotherapy, which focuses on issues underlying the eating disorder.

“Parents are in a unique position to help their adolescents,” says study author Dr Daniel le Grange, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of Chicago, “yet treatment typically excludes them from the process. Now we have the evidence that we need to bring them back in.”

The trial, conducted at the University of Chicago, involved 80 adolescents, aged 12 to 19, with a diagnosis of bulimia nervosa (typically characterized by binge eating and purging) or a strict definition of partial bulimia nervosa.

Forty-one patients were randomly assigned to family-based treatment, and thirty-nine patients were randomly assigned to supportive psychotherapy. Patients from each group made 20 visits to the clinic over a six-month period.

In family-based treatment, parents and at times even siblings attend clinic sessions with the patient. Parents play an active follow-up role at home, encouraging their adolescents to eat as normally as possible, then monitoring them during and after meals to make sure they eat and are not tempted to purge.

“For years parents have been left out of the treatment process,” Le Grange said. They often feel guilty about intervening. “But what parent would step aside and play a minimal role in treatment if their child was diagnosed with cancer” Nor should they if a child has an eating disorder. Eating disorders pose serious health hazards.”

Although the family-based approach produced superior results, the research team is uncertain whether it was the family involvement or the focus on eating behavior found in family-based treatment that was responsible for the improved outcomes.

“We still have work to do on understanding and treating eating disorders,” Le Grange said. “While we’re happy for how well this approach has done, obviously abstinence rates between 30 to 40 percent leave considerable room for improvement.”

Source: University of Chicago Medical Center

Parental Involvement Improves Bulimia Care

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Parental Involvement Improves Bulimia Care. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 20, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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