The CD ROM Will See You Now

New software could help cure eating disorders.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on March 1, 2004 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

With campus counseling centers reeling under the burden of
one-on-one treatment for ever more students with ever more serious
psychological problems, a new interactive CD might be just what the
doctor ordered. A clinical trial of the program, called Food, Mood and
Attitude, demonstrates that it can help prevent eating disorders among
college women.

In tests on 240 freshman, those who engaged with the two-hour
program had decreased shape and weight concerns and a lower frequency of
overeating, excessive exercise and purging behaviors three months later,
compared with a control group.

Drawing on the power of social influence in the development of
bulimia, the multimedia program, developed by Newton, Massachusetts-based
Inflexxion Inc., puts users in the position of peer counselors to a
simulated student whose eating issues mirror their own. Says Sarah Lord,
Ph.D., Inflexxion’s director of college health programs.
“During freshman year, women who have roommate with bulimia are
four times more likely to develop bulimia than those whose roommate does
not have disordered eating. We decided to harness the power of such
social influence in a positive way, by using peer stories and the user as
a resident advisor.”

Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri, who tested the
program, finds it is “likely to have a wide applicability on
university campuses. Estimates vary, but eating disorders are said to
afflict up to 5 percent of college-age women. As many as 40 percent of
students engage in disordered eating and are deemed at risk of the
disorder during their college years.