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The University of Kansas: NIH funds trial giving AI-powered digital tools to clinicians treating teens for anorexia

Called a “pandemic within a pandemic,” the prevalence of anorexia nervosa (AN) among young people has spiked during COVID-19. According to research, in-patient interventions are effective for up to 75% of adolescents with AN. However, about 30% of these teens relapse following recovery in the “post-acute treatment window” as they return to their day-to-day lives.

“We know anorexia nervosa is one of the deadliest mental health conditions a person can have, and we also know that interventions tend to work best in youth,” said Kelsie Forbush, professor of clinical child psychology and director of the Center for the Advancement of Research on Eating Disorders (CARE) and the Center for Overcoming Problem Eating (COPE) at KU.

To improve outcomes and improve access to care for adolescents in this window of vulnerability to relapse, Forbush is leading a three-year clinical trial by researchers at the University of Kansas and Children’s Mercy Kansas City to assess a suite of new digital mHealth tools, dubbed Smart Treatment for Anorexia Recovery, or STAR.

The STAR intervention, developed by Forbush and her collaborators, will assist outpatient community therapists by providing them with support tools to assess and treat clients ages 13-21 during this post-acute treatment window. The randomized controlled trial will enroll 129 participants with AN and AN-related conditions (such as atypical anorexia nervosa, where AN traits are present but a body-mass index measure might be too high for a classic AN diagnosis). A pilot trial of usability and acceptability, already underway, is showing positive results.

Their work is supported by a new $700,000 award from the National Institutes of Health. Centers involved in this network include McCallum Place – Kansas City and St. Louis, InSight, Children’s Mercy Eating Disorders Center and the Eating Recovery Center in Denver.

“The majority of teens coming home from residential care are returning to communities without eating disorder specialists,” said co-primary investigator Sara Gould, director of the Eating Disorders Center at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. “This project has the potential to hugely increase access to proven interventions and to track teens’ response to the intervention."


Read the full release via The University of Kansas