Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 September 2020
Although effective treatments exist for diagnostic and subthreshold-level eating disorders (EDs), a significant proportion of affected individuals do not receive help. Interventions translated for delivery through smartphone apps may be one solution towards reducing this treatment gap. However, evidence for the efficacy of smartphones apps for EDs is lacking. We developed a smartphone app based on the principles and techniques of transdiagnostic cognitive-behavioral therapy for EDs and evaluated it through a pre-registered randomized controlled trial.
Symptomatic individuals (those who reported the presence of binge eating) were randomly assigned to the app (n = 197) or waiting list (n = 195). Of the total sample, 42 and 31% exhibited diagnostic-level bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder symptoms, respectively. Assessments took place at baseline, 4 weeks, and 8 weeks post-randomization. Analyses were intention-to-treat. The primary outcome was global levels of ED psychopathology. Secondary outcomes were other ED symptoms, impairment, and distress.
Intervention participants reported greater reductions in global ED psychopathology than the control group at post-test (d = −0.80). Significant effects were also observed for secondary outcomes (d's = −0.30 to −0.74), except compensatory behavior frequency. Symptom levels remained stable at follow-up. Participants were largely satisfied with the app, although the overall post-test attrition rate was 35%.
Findings highlight the potential for this app to serve as a cost-effective and easily accessible intervention for those who cannot receive standard treatment. The capacity for apps to be flexibly integrated within current models of mental health care delivery may prove vital for addressing the unmet needs of people with EDs.