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Eating disorders surged during the pandemic. Our virtual program delivers evidence-based treatment for families.


Horizon makes proven eating disorder treatment more accessible using telemedicine.

The anxiety and stress brought on by the pandemic has caused an increase in eating disorders–both new cases and relapses—in New Jersey and across the U.S.

A study by the New Jersey Hospital Association’s Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation (CHART) showed that the number of hospitalized NJ teens increased dramatically, from 222 in 2019 to 599 in 2021.

In yet another recent study, researchers analyzing data as part of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study found that disordered eating is beginning earlier than adolescence as it’s been typically understood in the past. What’s more, it’s equally prevalent among boys and girls.

The study data, collected from 2016 and 2018 on almost 12,000 children between 9 and 10 years old, revealed that 5 percent of children took part in binge eating. Meanwhile, 2.5 percent of the children had taken steps to avoid weight gain. These behaviors can be precursors to more serious eating disorders later in life.

Fortunately, evidence-based help for eating disorders is available—and it doesn’t have to mean sending someone away to a residential center. In fact, data shows that up to 50 percent of people relapse after returning home from residential centers.

“When you go to a residential center, it’s difficult to build a life you actually want to return to,” said Kristina Saffran, co-founder and CEO of Equip. “The stresses are still waiting for you when you return home.”

Making eating disorder treatment accessible

Diagnosed with anorexia at age 10, Saffran has made it her life’s work to make eating disorder treatment accessible to everyone. Now, with Equip, she and co-founder Erin Parks, Ph.D., have done just that by bringing an innovative treatment model to the nearly five million Americans who are diagnosed with an eating disorder each year.

Equip offers Family-Based Treatment (FBT), the gold-standard care for eating disorders, through a five-person virtual care team including a therapist, dietitian, medical provider, peer mentor, and family mentor. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey members have Equip as an in-network option.

“Eating disorders truly need to be treated in a holistic way, addressing both physical health and mental health,” said Suzanne Kunis, Vice President of Behavioral Health at Horizon. “Equip shares our mission of delivering integrated care and our mutual goal of increasing access to evidence-based treatment.”

While some may be skeptical of a telemedicine approach for treating eating disorders, Equip’s outcomes show patients and their families are well on their way to lasting recovery. 8 of 10 patients see a reduction in eating disorder symptoms and 90% meet their weight restoration goals.

“This treatment really does work,” Saffran said. “Full recovery is absolutely possible.”

What sets Equip apart

Equip provides all of its treatment virtually, so families can easily access appointments from home without leaving their lives behind. Equip is designed to replace the residential level of care and support families throughout their journey to really be the last treatment they will need.

Every patient gets assigned a dedicated, five-person care team that delivers comprehensive FBT care, which is proven to be the most effective form of treatment but is currently used by less than 35 percent of eating disorder specialists, according to this study.

FBT is based on the radical idea that families play a crucial role in helping their child get better, educating and empowering them to create a healthier home environment without assigning blame.

The first order of business is helping the child get the right nourishment. While eating disorders are complex psychological illnesses, with strong genetic and brain chemistry underpinnings, they also exact a high physical toll on the body. That’s partly why they’re the second deadliest mental health condition.

FBT teaches parents how to take charge of their child or teenager’s nutrition, ensuring they’re eating the right food, enough of it, and not worrying about food all the time.

“People with eating disorders constantly think about food. But they’re also not getting the proper caloric intake. Combine those two things and their brains are literally not letting them get the benefits out of the rest of their therapy,” explained Dr. Parks, who is also the company’s chief clinical officer.

Everyone on the care team has a role that helps wrap the family around in coordinated care. One of Equip’s key differentiators from traditional treatment is the family mentor, who is there to guide parents or other guardians in their journey and the peer mentor, who provides emotional support and shares their own experiences with the patients. “Hearing someone say, ‘I’ve been there, I get it’ can keep patients going and stay engaged,” Dr. Parks said.

A step forward for Horizon members

Equip provides treatment for the most common eating disorders, including:

  • Anorexia nervosa, where people restrict the number of calories and the types of food they eat
  • Bulimia nervosa, where people eat large amounts of food followed by unhealthy purging, such as vomiting or using laxatives
  • Binge eating disorder, where people lose control over their eating and regularly eat too much, even when they’re uncomfortably full or not hungry
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), where people develop a fear and avoidance of food, often out of fear of vomiting or choking

Equip currently treats young people ages 6-24, since eating disorders often start in these early years and early intervention leads to stronger outcomes. But the company plans to expand to adults in 2023.

Horizon members don’t need a referral to participate in the Equip program. Simply visit https://equip.health/ to sign up.

Even for people with eating disorders who have tried other treatments and have not had the results they wanted, Equip’s unique, delivered-from-home approach may be the right option.

“No one should ever think they’re too broken or it’s impossible to get care,” Dr. Parks said. “Anyone with an eating disorder needs to know it’s not their fault and they can take their lives back from the eating disorder.”