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U.S. Centers to Launch Major Study of Anorexia

SATURDAY, March 31 (HealthDay News) -- A four-year study of anorexia nervosa by the U.S National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) will begin accepting patients May 1. Anorexia nervosa is a dangerous eating disorder that mostly affects teenage girls.

The study, which will include New York-Presbyterian Hospital's Westchester Division and five other medical research institutions in the United States and Canada, will examine two early intervention treatment approaches in 240 young people, ages 12 to 18, who've been diagnosed with anorexia. The children's parents will play an important role in the study.

"This is a psycho-physiological disorder characterized by an abnormal fear of becoming obese, a distorted self-image, a persistent unwillingness to eat, and severe weight loss. It is often accompanied by self-induced vomiting, excessive exercising, malnutrition, and other harmful physiological changes," Dr. Katherine Halmi, who will lead the New York-Presbyterian/Westchester team, said in a prepared statement.

There is no proven treatment for the disorder.

"Currently, only a quarter of patients with anorexia nervosa fully recover, and half have partial improvement, but another 25 percent remain chronically ill. There is also a 40 percent rate of relapse," said Halmi, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and the founder and director of the New York-Presbyterian/Westchester Eating Disorder Treatment Program.

She's done extensive research on anorexia nervosa.

"We've learned a lot about this highly complex disorder, and we know that genes play a substantial role in determining who is vulnerable to developing eating disorders. We also know that early intervention involving the participation of family members during the adolescent years has proven extremely important in successful treatment," Halmi said.

"Environmental factors, such as society's emphasis on being overly thin, may serve as a trigger that increases the risk in an individual who is genetically predisposed," she added. "Although less than half of one percent of women develop this disorder, anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any mental illness, which makes the controlled treatment studies we will be conducting extremely important in enhancing our understanding of anorexia nervosa and in developing effective therapeutic treatment plans."

More information

The U.S. National Women's Health Information Center has more about anorexia nervosa
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