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Published on June 12, 2024
Harvard Study Reveals Binge Eating More Chronic and Prevalent Than Previously ThoughtSource: Unsplash/ Ali Inay

An extensive study helmed by Kristin Javaras at Harvard Medical School suggests that binge eating, a disorder characterized by eating large quantities of food with a concurrent feeling of loss of control, may be more chronic and widespread than previously understood. Published in Psychological Medicine, the research highlights that previous studies, which concentrated on younger women, did not fully capture the disorder's longevity and prevalence in the general population.

As defined by the DSM, binge-eating episodes combine two main elements: consuming an objectively large amount of food and experiencing a sense of uncontrollable consumption. Contrary to occasional overeating during social events like Thanksgiving, binge eating involves a significant and distressful loss of control. As Javaras explained in an article by the Harvard Gazette, "When people diet and think, ‘I’m going to try to eat as little as possible,’ that sets them up to engage in binge eating."

The recent changes in the diagnostic guidelines, from DSM-4 to DSM-5, have affected the way binge eating is quantified, from twice a week to at least one episode a week, potentially widening the scope of those diagnosed. The research, based on the DSM-4 criteria, unearthed that the condition persists much longer than previously thought, with only a little over 20 percent of people experiencing remission at the five-year mark. Javaras highlighted the notably high relapse rates and median remission time of over 60 months, underscoring the chronic nature of binge eating disorders.

Prevalence rates in the U.S. for the disorder vary, yet the numbers suggest a significant impact, somewhere between 1 and 3 percent lifetime occurrence amongst Americans. Speaking to the potential for treatment, Javaras mentioned the existence of effective interventions, including psychotherapies and one FDA-approved medication, lisdexamfetamine for addressing binge eating. Javaras told the Harvard Gazette that "our treatments are not perfect, they do help many people," reinforcing the message that while the study may paint a stark picture of the disorder, hope resides in existing treatments yielding better outcomes than natural course.

Boston-Science, Tech & Medicine