Psychotherapy Prevents Obesity

Adolescence is a pivotal time in the physical health of young girls. Bone mass is increasing dramatically, there is an influx of hormones, and there is often a surge in height and weight. During this time, disordered eating behaviors often emerge. While the combination of factors influencing the appearance of eating patterns is complex, adolescence is a time when many problems surface.

A team of researchers recently developed a psychotherapy treatment program to help at-risk teenage girls avoid problems with obesity as they enter young adulthood. The scientists conducted the research at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences with collaboration from the National Institutes of Health.

The findings, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, showed that young teen girls who enrolled in the program may be able to avoid a problem with obesity. The program featured a participation in Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) to prevent the girls’ BMI from increasing over the course of a year.

The team was led by Dr Marian Tanofsky-Kraff and screened young girls based on their risk for obesity measured by an above-average weight and by behaviors associated with loss of control eating or binge eating. These indicators were used because the combination of higher weight and loss of control eating are linked to excessive weight gain in adolescents.

The researchers chose to use IPT because it is effective at improving interpersonal relationships by examining deeper social and interpersonal factors that lead to disordered eating behaviors like loss of control eating. This type of therapy was expected to be effective because it has been successful in treating depression among adults and youth and also binge eating among adults.

The researchers recruited 38 teenage girls who were randomly assigned to either participate in IPT sessions or in standard health education classes. All of the girls, some of whom struggled with loss of control eating, completed the course and participated in follow-up visits during the following year.

The girls who were enrolled in IPT were more likely to be successful at stabilizing or reducing their BMI than those enrolled in the standard health education class.

The researchers targeted the study to address the growing problem of obesity in children and teenagers. The successful pilot with IPT suggests that there may be a new opportunity for using IPT as a strategy in reducing the BMI of teenagers at risk for obesity and loss of control eating.

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