Are Adolescent Treatment Studies of Eating Disorders Utilizing Clinically Relevant Samples? A Comparison of RCT and Clinic Treatment-Seeking Youth with Eating Disorders

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To assess potential selection bias in participant recruitment for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of adolescent eating disorders (EDs), we compared participants recruited for RCTs evaluating psychosocial treatments with individuals seeking fee-for-service outpatient ED treatment [clinic treatment-seeking (CTS)].


Participants were 214 adolescents presenting to an outpatient ED research-clinical program (92.1% female; M age = 15.4 ± 1.8 years). ANOVA and chi-square tests assessed differences between CTS participants and those presenting for no-cost treatment through RCTs. A secondary analysis compared RCT participants to participants eligible for the RCTs that opted for fee-for-service treatment.


RCT participants had greater baseline ED and general psychopathology (p < .001); however, CTS participants were more likely to present with a comorbid psychiatric disorder (p < .05) and higher family income (p < .05).


Results suggest that RCT participants did not have less pathology than CTS participants. While preliminary, results do not indicate a systematic population bias in selecting healthier patients for RCTs involving adolescent ED. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.

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