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Binge Eating and Its Impact on the Workplace: An Interview With Richard Bedrosian, Ph.D.

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Dr. Richard Bedrosian is director of behavioral health and solution development for Wellness & Prevention, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company. He is a clinical psychologist with more than 34 years of experience in treating depression, addictions, anxiety disorders, and aftereffects of childhood trauma or abuse. He is a pioneer in the development of digital coaching interventions for behavioral health problems. Dr. Bedrosian was personally trained and supervised by Dr. Aaron T. Beck, who is known as the "Father of Cognitive Therapy."

Dr. Bedrosian is the author of numerous books, chapters, and articles focused on depression, eating disorders, family dynamics and related problems, including the 1994 volume, Treating Family of Origin Problems: A Cognitive Approach. Dr. Bedrosian has served as principal investigator on seven research grants from the National Institutes of Health.

In your study on binge eating and its impact on the workplace, you found a positive correlation between binge eating and loss of work productivity. To what factors do you attribute this correlation?

Binge eating is more than simply a behavioral problem. Binge eating is associated with greater psychological distress, as measured by increased frequency and intensity of negative emotions, and greater occurrence of negative thoughts and beliefs (e.g., poor body image or obsessive worries about one's weight). It's not surprising then that it is also associated with diminished capacity to discharge one's day-to-day responsibilities. In our study, we were also able to show that binge eating had an independent association with productivity impairment over and above the impact of stress and depression on performance.

Your study found that in a company of 1,000 employees, the estimated annual productivity loss due to binge eating is $107,965. Besides the financial loss to a company, why is it important to study the impact of binge eating on work productivity?

There is a striking relationship between binge eating and obesity. Persistent episodes of binge eating ultimately lead to weight gain and obesity. However, it is important to bear in mind that at given point in time, there will be individuals whose binge eating has not yet resulted in obesity. While binge eating will inevitably result in weight gain, screening for the problem among all employees may result in identifying people whose eating behaviors have not yet resulted in high weight gain -- if these people can receive help, they may avoid gaining weight and developing all the health problems that accompany obesity.

In general, eating disorders are typically not identified or treated. Not all health care organizations are cognizant of the strong association between binge eating and obesity. Consequently, routine medical examinations and even weight management services may not include screening for binge eating. Moreover, people who binge eat typically feel ashamed of their behavior, which makes it hard for them to volunteer information about their problems. This may be even more of an issue among men, due to a perception that eating disorders are "female" disorders. There is research suggesting that some people are more likely to report potentially stigmatizing behaviors (e.g., unsafe sexual practices, substance abuse) to computer-based assessment rather than face-to-face assessment with a health care provider. Providing confidential screening in the form of an HRA may make it easier for some individuals to disclose eating problems. Workplace screening may enable identification of binge eating and other behavioral health problems long before they ever come to the attention of the health care system.

What role does a company have in helping employees with eating disorders?

Screening and treatment for binge eating disorder need to be part of all workplace health promotion programs and every effort we make to contain the obesity epidemic. That means that all employer-based health risk appraisals and weight management programs should be asking participants about binge eating behaviors and either providing them with or referring them to the appropriate services for the problem. As described ... above, our experiences indicate that this will result in identifying and triaging substantial numbers of people whose difficulties might otherwise go unnoticed or unacknowledged.

When employers provide confidential, alternative forms of self-help or self-management (e.g., digital health coaching) for people who might be reluctant to acknowledge their symptoms or come forward for treatment, they may be able to reach a group of people whose eating difficulties might not have been identified or addressed in any other way. Our experiences support this recommendation.

What are three things that employers should know about binge eating?

1. This is a common problem, but a treatable one.

2. Screening and treatment for binge eating disorder need to be part of all workplace health promotion programs and every effort we make to contain the obesity epidemic. That means that all employer-based health risk appraisals and weight management programs should be asking participants about binge eating behaviors and either providing them with or referring them to the appropriate services for the problem. As described ... above, our experiences indicate that this will result in identifying and triaging substantial numbers of people whose difficulties might otherwise go unnoticed or unacknowledged

3. We need to provide alternative forms of self-help or self-management (e.g., digital health coaching) for people who might be reluctant to acknowledge their symptoms or come forward for treatment. As described ... above, our experiences indicated that by doing so, employers may be able to reach a group of people whose eating difficulties might not have been identified or addressed in any other way.


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