The Importance of Diversity in Eating Disorders Research

by: Rachael Flatt, Grad Student & Casey MacDermod, Research Assistant

February 24, 2020

People of color are under-represented in eating disorders research. As a result, we know little about how best to treat these illnesses in diverse populations. Over the past decade, researchers and providers have finally started to explore how best to adapt interventions for diverse populations. We are currently focusing on individuals from African American backgrounds who experience binge-eating behavior.

We now know that anyone can be affected by an eating disorder, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, or socioeconomic background. In fact, some studies have found that people of color may be at a higher risk for certain eating disorders (Goode et al., 2020). In order to understand how best to recognize and treat eating disorders in everyone, diversity in research is essential.  The National Institute of Mental Health, among other research funders, has made it a top priority to ensure that people of color are fairly represented in research. At CEED, we consistently strive to achieve this goal. Given that eating disorders do not discriminate, we aim to recruit participants that accurately represent the diversity both in the US and around the world.

In honor of Black History Month, we are hoping to raise awareness of binge eating in the African American community and are announcing a recruitment effort focusing on African Americans who experience binge eating for a research study. The Binge Eating Genetics Initiative (BEGIN) extends our previous genetic research on anorexia nervosa, the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI). ANGI focused on anorexia nervosa only and has transformed our understanding of that illness, showing that it has both psychological and metabolic origins. BEGIN broadens our focus to explore genetic and gut microbiome components of bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder to better understand binge-eating behavior. We are particularly interested in recruiting individuals with African ancestry to inform improvements in treatment. Participants use wearable technology for the 30-day duration of the study and have exclusive access to self-guided content via Recovery Record, the most widely used eating disorder recovery app. By combining genetic and microbiome data with real-time symptom monitoring, we are one of the first studies to merge cutting edge biological, psychological, and technology-based strategies to study eating disorders.

We know that individuals in the African American community are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders. BEGIN is an important first step in bringing treatment to those with the illness. Our goal is to make treatment widely available, even to individuals who do not have access to specialist care. If you experience binge-eating behavior and are African American, we invite you to join the BEGIN community and help us understand the biological underpinnings of binge eating on the path to developing improved treatments. For more information on the BEGIN research study, please visit or you can contact us via email at or via phone at 919-445-0319.

UNC Chapel Hill IRB Study # 17-0242

Goode, R.W., Cowell, M. M., Mazzeo, S. E., Cooper-Lewter, C., Forte, A., Olayia, O. I., Bulik, C. M. (2020). Binge eating and binge-eating disorder in Black women: A systematic review. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 1-17. Watson, H. J., Yilmaz, Z., Thornton, L. M., Hübel, C., Coleman, J. R. I., Gaspar, H. A., … Bulik, C. M. (2019). Genome-wide association study identifies eight risk loci and implicates metabo-psychiatric origins for anorexia nervosa. Nature Genetics, 51(8), 1207–1214.