University of Sydney to lead international anorexia study

An international treatment trial for sufferers of chronic anorexia nervosa involving Sydney, London and Chicago is a world first.

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious mental illness associated with high levels of disability and psychiatric disturbance, affecting around two per cent of the female population worldwide and a smaller yet rising proportion of young men.

Chronic anorexia nervosa (C-AN), is defined here as the duration of anorexia nervosa for more than seven years. C-AN currently has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, of around 20 per cent after 20 years.

Through their illness, sufferers of C-AN have disproportionately high levels of unemployment, multiple medical complications and repeat admissions to medical facilities, at a huge cost to the health system. They are also are intensive users of GP services and the welfare system.

'Advances in the treatment of anorexia nervosa have been limited in part by a lack of vigorous systematic enquiry,' said primary investigator Professor Stephen Touyz from the University of Sydney's School of Psychology. 'The lack of treatment research in this field means that a study of this kind could set Australia apart as a world leader in treatment research and C-AN' he said.

The international randomised control trial, which is led by Professor Touyz, will involve 90 outpatients, with interventions conducted at the University of Sydney and the University of London. Data management for the project will be conducted at the University of Chicago.

The project aims to establish the first effective outpatient treatment for C-AN by:

comparing the capacity of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and nonspecific supportive clinical management (NSCM) to improve quality of life and to reduce depression and social isolation;

determining whether cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) or nonspecific supportive clinical management (NSCM) has a greater impact on core eating disorder pathology and the extent to which their impact is mediated by motivation for change; and

investigating whether the reduction in chronicity translated to a reduced burden on medical services.

'Because patients with chronic anorexia nervosa pose such a burden to carers, services and the community, and have proven resistant to traditional hospital-based treatments, the need for effective outpatient psychotherapies is urgent,' said Professor Touyz.

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