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KU professor awarded grant to develop a screening tool for military eating disorders

A woman stands on a scale. Two women in military uniforms observe, one with a clipboard and pen in hand.
Senior Airman Kimberly Barrera
Fitness assessment cell technicians measure Airman’s weight and height prior to conducting a fitness assessment at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, July 13, 2021. Each Airman is required to complete an FA at least once a year.

U.S. military members have a higher rate of eating disorders compared to civilians. The Department of Defense awarded a $4.2 million grant to a University of Kansas professor to establish screening tools to better detect individuals experiencing or at risk of disordered eating.

A focus on body mass index (BMI), rigorous physical fitness regimens, disrupted sleep patterns, high stress and trauma may all be contributing to U.S. service members having higher rates of disordered eating compared to the civilian population.

Though likely underreported, it's estimated between 5-30% of female and 4-18% of male service members have experienced disordered eating, according to Kelsie Forbush, director of the University of Kansas Center for the Advancement of Research on Eating Behaviors.

Forbush recently received a $4.2 million grant from the Department of Defense to conduct a three-year study within the active duty community. Researchers will test screening tools to better predict and assess when an individual might be experiencing disordered eating.

"What we're hoping to do is to implement a standardized screening tool very similar to how PTSD or something like depression is screened," Forbush said. "And one of our goals too, is to make sure that the screening tool works well in both women and men. Because, at least in the eating disorders field, many of the screening tools and other assessment tools work best in women and not as well."

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