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J Nerv Ment Dis. 2012 Mar;200(3):265-70. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e318247d262.

The use of students as participants in a study of eating disorders in a developing country: case study in the ethics of mental health research.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.


This article describes the ethical analysis of an eating disorder study in which a university-based researcher in South Africa set out to establish the cross-cultural validity of the Eating Disorders Inventory. The following ethical issues are considered in the analysis: study design, social value, study population, risks and benefits, oversight, informed consent, and posttrial obligations. The ethics analysis is based on an adaptation of the structured framework proposed by Emanuel et al. (The Oxford textbook of clinical research ethics; pp. 123-133, 2008) for ethical research in developing countries. The analysis reveals that research that, on superficial analysis, seems to be low risk and noninterventional can result in adverse psychosocial effects and complexities for research participants and researchers alike. The study underlines the need for special ethics scrutiny of mental health-related research proposals involving students as research participants, especially when conducted by their own teachers.

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