Family-Based Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms in High-Risk Youth: A Partially-Randomized Preference-Design Study

Katharine L. Loeb, Ruth Striegel Weissman, Sue Marcus, Cassandra Pattanayak, Lisa Hail, Kelly C. Kung, Diana Schron, Nancy Zucker, Daniel Le Grange, James Lock, Jeffrey H. Newcorn, C. Barr Taylor, B. Timothy Walsh

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This pilot study adapted family-based treatment (FBT) for youth with potentially prodromal anorexia nervosa (AN). Fifty-nine youth with clinically significant AN symptom constellations, but who never met full Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev.) (DSM-IV) criteria for AN, were enrolled in a partially randomized preference design study. Participants were offered randomization to FBT or supportive psychotherapy (SPT); those who declined to be randomized because of a strong treatment preference were entered into a parallel, non-randomized self-selected intervention study. Without accessing outcome data, an observational analysis with three diagnostic subclasses was designed based on AN symptom severity profiles, combining randomized and non-randomized participants, such that participants receiving FBT and SPT within each subclass were similar on key baseline characteristics. Outcomes of this pilot study were explored by calculating effect sizes for end-of-treatment values within each subclass, and also with a longitudinal mixed effect model that accounted for subclass. Weight trajectory was measured by percent expected body weight. Psychological outcomes were fear of weight gain, feeling fat, importance of weight, and importance of shape. Results show that the pattern of symptom observations over time was dependent on subclass of SAN (least symptomatic, moderately symptomatic, or most symptomatic) and on the target outcome variable category (weight or psychological). Results from this study, which should be considered in the context of the small sample sizes overall and within groups, can generate hypotheses for future, larger research trials on early treatment strategies. Feasibility findings illustrate how the innovative partially randomized preference design has potential broader application for AN intervention research. Clinical Trial Registration:, identifier NCT00418977.

Original languageEnglish
Article number985
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - 22 Jan 2020


  • anorexia nervosa
  • early identification
  • early intervention
  • family-based treatment
  • partially-randomized preference design


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