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Do I Have an Eating Disorder? Take New Online Test

New online screening test for eating disorders debuts.

As part of the national Eating Disorder Awareness Week of 2014, which lasted from Feb. 23 to March 1, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) and Screening for Mental Health together launched a new online screening test. The test is free and anonymous, and helps users determine if they may be at risk for an eating disorder.

The online test begins with a variety of demographic questions, including questions about the user’s past and current history of treatment for substance use disorders and mental illness. Substance use disorders, depression, anxiety and personality disorders frequently co-exist with eating disorders, and a history of one or more of these illnesses can help identify people at higher risk for an eating disorder. The remainder of the screening involves 15 questions that address the user’s attitude toward food and eating behaviors, as well as the user’s attitude toward his or her body.

The questions for this online screening test were based on the work of David M. Garner, Ph.D., Marion P. Olmstead, Ph.D., Dr. Yvonne Bohr and Dr. Paul E Garfinkel, all frequently published researchers in the field of eating disorders. They are also the creators of the well-established Eating Attitudes Test (EAT), which has been in circulation since 1979 and has been translated into many languages for use around the world. In the United States, the EAT has been commonly used in high schools and colleges to assess eating disorder risk among vulnerable teenage and young adult populations.

Not a Replacement for an Official Diagnosis

The new online screening tool, like the EAT before it, cautions users that the results of the test should not be seen as a true diagnosis. Prior to beginning the assessment, users are advised to seek the advice of a qualified professional in order to receive a diagnosis or help in adjusting risky behavior that could develop into a full-blown eating disorder.

However, the creators of this online screening test believe that assessment tools like this are far from useless or redundant. Many people suffering from eating disorders do not know where to turn for help, or are hesitant to take the more committed step of visiting a doctor. The online test allows people to take a quick, free and easy first step to recovery, without the potential discomfort of speaking to someone in person or revealing their identity. Just as importantly, the conclusion of the assessment provides users with referral information if the results of the test indicate that additional assessment is a good idea.

Early Identification and Improved Recovery

NEDA and its collaborators hope that these factors, as well as the widespread availability of an online tool of this kind, will not only lead to more accurately diagnosed eating disorders, but will also result in earlier identification of eating disorders and potential eating disorders than ever before.

Early diagnoses of eating disorders or problematic eating symptoms have been shown to result in faster recoveries and reduced costs for treatment. Faster recoveries contribute to these reduced costs, but fewer hospitalizations also play a large part in bringing treatment costs down. In recent years, acute hospitalizations for eating disorders have been on the rise.

Comparatively, early diagnosis can also mean the difference between a full recovery and failure to recover. When people suffering from bulimia nervosa are diagnosed within the first five years of their symptoms, 80 percent of them will recover. After 15 years of living with the disorder, only 20 percent of people with bulimia nervosa will recover from the illness.

Eating disorders are chronic and debilitating illnesses, and they can be fatal. Some long-term studies have found that about 10 percent of patients with anorexia nervosa will die from the illness, and that an additional 10 percent will commit suicide. Other studies have estimated that the mortality rate among people with anorexia nervosa is closer to 4 percent. The mortality rate among bulimia nervosa patients is lower, largely because patients with bulimia are not necessarily underweight. Nevertheless, studies have estimated that about 3 percent of these patients will die from the illness. Fatalities from eating disorders can be difficult to tabulate, since the immediate cause of death is often a heart attack, organ failure or another cause that may not be attributed to the eating disorder.

There is still hope.

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