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Application of network analysis to identify interactive systems of eating disorder psychopathology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 July 2016

K. T. Forbush*
Department of Psychology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA
C. S. Q. Siew
Department of Psychology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA
M. S. Vitevitch
Department of Psychology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA
*Address for correspondence: K. T. Forbush, Department of Psychology, University of Kansas, Fraser Hall, 1400 Jayhawk Boulevard, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA. (Email:



Traditional approaches for the classification of eating disorders (EDs) attribute symptoms to an underlying, latent disease entity. The network approach is an alternative model in which mental disorders are represented as networks of interacting, self-reinforcing symptoms. This project was the first to use network analysis to identify interconnected systems of ED symptoms.


Adult participants (n = 143; 77.6% women) with a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) ED were recruited from the community to take part in a larger ongoing longitudinal study. The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM Disorders (SCID-I) was used to establish diagnoses. An undirected network of ED symptoms was created using items from the Eating Pathology Symptoms Inventory (EPSI) and the R package qgraph.


Body checking emerged as the strongest and most important single symptom in the entire network by having the shortest average distance to other symptoms in the network, and by being the most frequent symptom on the path between any two other symptoms. Feeling the need to exercise every day and two symptoms assessing dietary restraint/restricting emerged as ‘key players’, such that their removal from the network resulted in maximal fracturing of the network into smaller components.


Although cognitive–behavioral therapy for EDs focuses on reducing body checking to promote recovery, our data indicate that amplified efforts to address body checking may produce stronger (and more enduring) effects. Finally, results of the ‘key players analysis’ suggested that targeting interventions at these key nodes might prevent or slow the cascade of symptoms through the ‘network’ of ED psychopathology.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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