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J Eat Disord. 2014 Feb 3;2:5. doi: 10.1186/2050-2974-2-5. eCollection 2014.

Mapping the evidence for the prevention and treatment of eating disorders in young people.

Author information

  • 1Orygen Youth Health Research Centre, Centre for Youth Mental Health, The University of Melbourne, Locked Bag 10, Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria 3052, Australia ; Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation Ltd, Level 2, South Tower, 485 La Trobe Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia.
  • 2Melbourne School of Population Health, The University of Melbourne, Level 3, 207 Bouverie Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia.



Eating disorders often develop during adolescence and young adulthood, and are associated with significant psychological and physical burden. Identifying evidence-based interventions is critical and there is need to take stock of the extant literature, to inform clinical practice regarding well-researched interventions and to direct future research agendas by identifying gaps in the evidence base.


To investigate and quantify the nature and distribution of existing high-quality research on the prevention and treatment of eating disorders in young people using evidence mapping methodology.


A systematic search for prevention and treatment intervention studies in adolescents and young adults (12-25 years) was conducted using EMBASE, PSYCINFO and MEDLINE. Studies were screened and mapped according to disorder, intervention modality, stage of eating disorder and study design. Included studies were restricted to controlled trials and systematic reviews published since 1980.


The eating disorders evidence map included 197 trials and 22 systematic reviews. Prevention research was dominated by trials of psychoeducation (PE). Bulimia nervosa (BN) received the most attention in the treatment literature, with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and antidepressants the most common interventions. For anorexia nervosa (AN), family based therapy (FBT) was the most studied. Lacking were trials exploring treatments for binge eating disorder (BED) and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). Relapse prevention strategies were notably absent across the eating disorders.


Despite substantial literature devoted to the prevention and treatment of eating disorders in young people, the evidence base is not well established and significant gaps remain. For those identified as being at-risk, there is need for prevention research exploring strategies other than passive PE. Treatment interventions targeting BED and EDNOS are required, as are systematic reviews synthesising BN treatment trials (e.g., CBT, antidepressants). FBTs for AN require investigation against other validated psychological interventions, and the development of relapse prevention strategies is urgently required. By systematically identifying existing interventions for young people with eating disorders and exposing gaps in the current literature, the evidence map can inform researchers, funding bodies and policy makers as to the opportunities for future research.


Adolescent; Eating disorders; Evidence mapping; Prevention; Treatment; Young adult

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