Women's Health Project

Women's Health Project

The long-term goal is to advance the treatment of binge eating and related problems for ethnic minority individuals by developing effective and accessible intervention programs.  The specific aims of this project are to adapt a self-help program for Mexican American women with eating disorders and to test the effectiveness of this treatment on a community sample.

 Our past research has demonstrated that eating disorders, particularly those accompanied by binge eating such as Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Bulimia Nervosa (BN), do occur in Mexican American women and pose serious mental and physical health risks. Eating disorders are chronic and debilitating disorders associated with numerous physical and psychiatric problems such as diabetes, obesity, bone-mass loss, infertility, depression, and anxiety.  Yet despite their chronicity and severity, eating disorders largely go undetected and untreated.  Moreover, women of ethnic minority groups are the most likely to suffer from unmet mental health needs.  Our recent research has demonstrated numerous barriers to seeking and receiving treatment for Mexican American women with eating disorders.  In one study we found that less than 28% of a sample of Mexican American women with full-syndrome eating disorders ever had sought treatment, and of this group only 5 individuals (6.6%) actually had received treatment.  Such findings underscore the great need for treatment that is accessible to this population.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is considered the treatment of choice for BN  and BED.  However, CBT is a costly and not readily available treatment requiring specialized training and expertise.  Therefore research has begun to examine the effectiveness of guided self-help (GSH), which is based on the principles of CBT, as a minimal intervention or first step in the treatment of binge eating related problems. Guided self-help (GSH) is a low intensity intervention in which patients use a self-help manual with only limited support and instruction from either a specialist or nonspecialist in clinical or nonclinical settings.  GSH is briefer, less costly and more easily disseminated than CBT, and research with European and European American women indicates it is efficacious for the treatment of BN and BED. Yet no studies to date have examined the use of GSH with ethnic minority populations, who are the groups most in need of accessible and low-cost treatment.  Furthermore, research from related areas suggests that for an intervention to be (most) effective with diverse populations, cultural variables and cultural context need to be taken into consideration and incorporated into the intervention.

Findings from this study will contribute to advances in the treatment of BN, BED, and related binge eating problems including obesity for Mexican American women.  The proposed project will provide an important step in developing effective and accessible treatment for ethnic minority individuals with eating disorders, who are groups largely neglected in treatment trials and research and are currently underrepresented in clinic populations.

To contribute to this project or for more information, contact Dr. Fary Cachelin at fcachel@calstatela.edu.