January 23, 2018

Presenter Q&A: Michael Levine on Eating Disorder Treatment

CREDN Conference presenter discusses his sociocultural perspective on eating disorder treatment
  • Michael P. Levine, PhD

Michael P. Levine, PhD, is a Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he taught for 33 years.

He will be presenting, An Evidence-Based Sociocultural Approach to Eating Disorders Prevention in the Age of Neurobiology: 10 Principles for a Bolder Model, at the Columbia River Eating Disorder Network (CREDN) Conference on February 17th at Lewis & Clark College.

We asked him a few questions about his outlook on eating disorder treatment, how things have changed during his time working in the field, and why he remains interested in the field today.

Why do you think it’s important to continually approach eating disorders from a sociocultural perspective?

It is important to continually approach eating disorders from a sociocultural perspective because there is clearly a link between cultural attitudes and practices, and the principal risk factors for which we have good evidence; for example body dissatisfaction, idealization of the slender beauty ideal for women, and unhealthy forms of weight management (such as calorie-restrictive dieting).

Moreover, if the level of these and similar risk factors are normally distributed into the population at large, then the majority of new cases of eating disorders will come from those in the low-to-moderate risk groups. Finally, it is hard to imagine that two disorders–anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa–that have such a high female-to-male ratio are not attributable to gender roles, sexual objectification, and other malleable risk factors.

How has eating disorder prevention changed over the past decade/stayed the same? Where do you think there needs to be new or more needed research or focus?

Eating disorder prevention research has become more sophisticated over the past decade, with increased attention to (a) the training of those delivering the program; (b) collaboration with schools, scout troops, and other stakeholders in the community; (c) long-term follow-up of the program’s effects on a variety of variables; and (d) the potential for widespread dissemination of those programs that are effective.

Four areas where much more theory and research are needed are (1) the prevention of anorexia nervosa; (2) the prevention of risk factors development in children ages 6 through 11; (3) universal prevention through formulation and enactment of new policies and practices in government, advertising, education, athletics, etc.; and (4) prevention program with girls and boys who are at high risk because they have a parent or a sibling with an eating disorder.

What keeps you engaged and excited about working in the field of eating disorders?

Three interrelated things excite me about this field. First, due primarily to research and publications of Eric Stice at the Oregon Research Institute, prevention research has become a fundamental part of risk factor research; if something is a causal risk factor, then prevention or modulation of the factor will decrease the incidence of the disorder. This simple fact has given prevention long-overdue credibility and respect in the eating disorders field. Second, this state of affairs has drawn a number of new, young, and dynamic researchers and activists into the field, and they come from both all over the USA and a variety of other countries. Lastly, since prevention will necessarily involve sociocultural changes, working in the prevention field brings one into contact with a variety of professions; psychologists, public health specialists, psychiatrists and other physicians, dietitians, social workers, educators, policy makers, recovered people, parents and caretakers.

What would you like CREDN conference participants to walk away with?

I would like CREDN conference participants to walk away with an enhanced, evidence-based appreciation of the sociocultural perspective, and a clear set of specific things they can do and be in their personal, professional, and political (as citizens) to help prevent eating disorders.

You taught in Ohio at Kenyon College for 33 years. What kept you in the Midwest, and what do you enjoy about living there?

I grew up in southern California and I received my degrees at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). As of June 2016, my wife and I have both retired to live in Goleta, a suburb 9 miles north of downtown Santa Barbara that frames UCSB.

However, from 1979 until 2012 I was a psychology professor at Kenyon College in rural, central Ohio. I stayed in the Midwest for nearly 37 years because Kenyon College was an excellent liberal arts college at which to teach and do research–the kind of place where one would routinely have students such as Dr. Laura King, a leader in the positive psychology movement, as well as noted actor Allison Janney, influential writer John Green, and celebrated college basketball coach Shaka Smart.

In fact, I remember having two very large young men in my Spring 2004 Introduction to Psychology course. Both had been recruited to play Division I football, but chose to go to Kenyon, where they ended up as the starting tackles on the offensive line. Now they both have a PhD in Neuroscience and are college professors. I also stayed in Ohio for so long because it was a beautiful place to raise three children.


View more information about the CREDN Conference here