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Study shows a chatbot can help deal with eating disorders

If you are dealing with an eating disorder, a chatbot could help. A group of researchers developed the chatbot to help at-risk people win the battle. It works by trying to attack one of the roots of the problem. The chatbot reduces concern about body weight, size, and shape.

It has been proven that the struggle against eating disorders can be fought electronically, according to Ellen Fitzsimmons-Craft. She works as an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis. Apps and other programs can be effective when supervised by humans.

The team behind the chatbot made the StudentBodies program for preventing eating disorders into a bot. It means the users do not have to visit the website to access the program. Going through the chatbot through texts or Facebook Messenger, users will get the same content, exercises, and prompts for journaling.

Female participants got involved in the study through online ads and other means.

The participants in the chatbot program reported feeling less concerned about their weight, a major risk for people suffering from eating disorders. Compared to women who were not participating in the study, the drop in the level of concern was significant.

At the end of six months, the women in the study were less likely to have a clinical eating disorder than those not involved in the study.

Chatbots in healthcare are relatively new, so there are few studies on their effectiveness. In fact, this study is one of the few carried out. However, the chatbots got more popular during the Covid-19 pandemic, where they were used for screening for symptoms.

However, it is essential to note that the chatbot in this study is not meant for people who already have an eating disorder but for people who are showing signs or are at risk.

According to Fitzsimmons-Craft, people at risk could be identified through their internet usage, including the things they search for. The disorder can also be noticed in how the people at risk use social media like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. In fact, the three platforms mentioned here have been at the center of controversies about how users of their platforms fare health wise. Facebook has been criticized for failing to act after being aware that teenage girls suffered mentally due to body image issues while using the app, as revealed by a whistleblower. TikTok has also been criticized for how easy it is for users to fall into suicide rabbit holes, prompting the video-sharing platform to make changes to its video recommending algorithm last month.

Fitzsimmons-Craft thinks it will be beneficial if healthcare practitioners partner with these popular platforms to track when people are at risk through their internet behavior. They can then recommend the chatbot. She says, “I think that’s absolutely worth exploring. It’s ripe for identifying individuals who could use help with these issues and intervening on the spot.”

However, Fitzsimmons-Craft sees uses for chatbots beyond dealing with eating disorders. For example, she recommends them for other mental issues that could be alleviated if detected on time. Even if they do not work for everybody, the investment to set up chatbots is low enough that we can try them anyway.

Also, Fitzsimmons-Craft encourages people who are not so high-risk to use the chatbots because there are benefits in steering them away from potential problems instead of waiting until they worsen.

Written by HackerVibes

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