Online therapy for young people with anorexia to bridge city-country treatment divide

12 Jun, 2022

Young people struggling with Anorexia Nervosa in regional and rural New South Wales and their families are invited to participate in a trial of an online therapy, as part of research aimed at bridging the city-country treatment divide.  

InsideOut Institute for Eating Disorders, in collaboration with University of California San Francisco, are conducting a pilot researching telemedicine delivery of Maudsley Family Based Therapy for Anorexia Nervosa into the homes of families living outside Australia’s big cities.  

Participation is free and it's expected that after nine months of treatment, individual families who participate in the study will benefit by experiencing improvements in anorexia in their young person. 

Family Based Therapy (FBT) is the most efficacious treatment currently available for adolescents with Anorexia Nervosa, but Clinical Psychologist and University of Sydney PhD Candidate Ashlea Hambleton says specialised care can be difficult to access in the regions. 

“The majority of research regarding the efficacy of FBT has taken place within specialised clinical research centers, often located within cities and areas of high population density with a concentration of specialists,” said Ms Hambleton of the University of Sydney. 

There is a concerning inequity in access to eating disorder care for rural populations. Due to the requirement for face-to-face treatment, families in rural or remote areas need to travel (often long distances) on a regular basis to treatment providers and this can be too great a barrier.

“We also know that stigma and treatment avoidance are amplified by social visibility in small rural communities.”   

“Technology offers a potential solution to a number of these barriers and has been previously applied to eating disorder treatment with some promising early results.” 

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious psychiatric disorder, with numerous negative physical and psychological health impacts including cardiac issues, infertility, changes in brain structure and gastrointestinal concerns. Individuals diagnosed with the illness have approximately 12 times greater risk of death and a 57 times greater risk of suicide compared to their peers. 

Ms Hambleton says that although Anorexia Nervosa affects both males and females, teenage girls are especially vulnerable.  

“Anorexia Nervosa is typically diagnosed in adolescence and is the third most common chronic disorder affecting adolescent girls.” 

“Given the seriousness of Anorexia Nervosa it is essential that treatment is delivered efficiently and effectively.” 

InsideOut Institute is recruiting young people (aged 12 – 18 years) diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and their families, who live at least 80km from Sydney’s central business district and who have not previously completed FBT, to participate in the study.