ROTC Military Building

Researchers will analyze current officers' and veterans' interview data to develop ways of screening eating disorders and linking these people to help.

Researchers at the University of Kansas have begun developing a screening tool to identify eating disorders in members of the military.

The project is set to begin in October with an initial sample of people currently serving in the military as well as veterans participating in interviews with researchers. In the second step of the project, researchers will analyze the data and use this data to develop ways of screening eating disorders and linking veterans to help.

“The first step is to try to understand the scope of the problem precisely and try to develop something that will be a strong screening tool,” said Kelsie Forbush, associate professor of psychology and a researcher on this project.

Forbush and Alesha Doan, associate professor in the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies and a faculty member in the School of Public Affairs & Administration, have secured a grant from the Department of Defense for their research, in addition to the three-year, $1.7 million grant they received from the University’s Life Span Institute, according to a press release.

“This will really help to put eating disorders on people’s radars, especially given that appearance-related concerns are very prevalent in military personnel,” said Melinda Gaddy, interim associate chief of staff for research at VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System and a collaborator on the project. “Part of it is wanting to do everything we can to prevent suicide risk.”

Doan and Forbush began discussing the project when a mutual acquaintance at the University introduced them. After sharing coffee and discussing their work, they found they had a lot in common.

Forbush, who is also lab director of the Center for the Advancement of Research on Eating Behaviors, comes from the perspective of helping veterans to disclose and access care for their eating disorders.

Forbush became interested with military eating disorders when an undergraduate student completed a research study about the connections of military sexual trauma and risk for eating disorders.

The issue of eating disorders in the military has very recently become prevalent, according to Forbush. Eating disorders occur about as often in the military as they do in the general population.

“To me it seems like the military is becoming more and more aware of eating disorders,” Forbush said. “Some people have a stigma and shame about eating disorders.”

Doan began researching the military five years ago with a focus on the integration of women into the military. She describes the project as a perfect collaboration, with her gathering qualitative research through interviews and Forbush developing treatment and bettering the screening process.

“There was an overlap in our area of interest,” Doan said. “We thought it would be something we would do further down the line, but then when this opportunity for the grant came along we said ‘let’s go for it.’”