The most important finding was that the intervention led to sustained reductions in weight and shape concerns in two subgroups of college-age women at high risk. The peak age for the onset of an eating disorder appears to be around 16 to 20 years, about the time when young women begin leaving home and starting college, the researchers said.
Both groups continued to improve over time, the researchers said, suggesting that improvement may be the result of statistical regression or the normal development among college women. The changes in both groups occurred with no overall changes in BMI, suggesting that weight loss was not a factor in the participants' feelings about their weight and shape.
There are a number of research and delivery issues related to a stepped-care program, but this study provides an important step in that direction, Dr. Taylor said. "To our knowledge this is the first study to show that eating disorders can be prevented in a high-risk group."
An Internet-based intervention has the advantage of facilitating rapid dissemination, the researchers said, noting that its most significant cost was related to the highly trained discussion-group moderators. About one to two hours per week were required to moderate groups of 10 to 20 participants. Future studies might explore ways to provide less expensive moderators, they suggested.