Eating disorders often start at a younger age, but they don’t solely affect this population. Recognizing this, virtual eating disorder support company Equip announced Tuesday that it is now treating adults as well as adolescents. The company also announced an investment from General Catalyst, which helped expand its platform to adults. The amount was not disclosed.
“There is a very pervasive, really dense stereotype that eating disorders only affect 15- to 25-year-old thin, White girls,” said Dr. Erin Parks, chief clinical officer and co-founder of Equip, in an interview. “That is true, it does affect them. But it is not only them.”
She added that because so few people have access to treatment, many older adults have had their eating disorder for a very long time and need support.
San Diego-based Equip, which was founded in 2019, previously focused on those ages 6 to 24. The startup is now expanding to serve people of all ages. The virtual company operates in all 50 states and is in-network with several insurance companies, including Aetna, Elevance, Optum, Cigna and UnitedHealthcare. It connects patients with a care team that includes a therapist, dietitian, physician and peer and family mentor.
Different ages require different kinds of treatment, according to Parks. With its younger patients, the company uses family-based treatment, in which the family is brought in to help care for the patient. For adults, the company is using a method called enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a highly individualized treatment that addresses thoughts, feelings and behaviors affecting the patient’s eating disorder.
Parks said that when it comes to adults, individual treatment is often the best way to go because they may not have a support group. Sometimes when adults have been sick for a long time, they’ve “pushed away” a lot of their family and peers, or they may be too busy with work to build that support group.
There are other virtual solutions for eating disorders as well, including Arise and Within. Arise offers coaching with a care advocate who has lived experience with an eating disorder, therapy, nutrition counseling, group support and psychiatry. Within provides access to a care team that includes dietitians, therapists, nurses and peers.
The expansion to adults was powered by a recent investment by General Catalyst. In total, Equip has raised more than $75 million. With the funding, the company brought on a new president, Nikia Bergan. It also updated its technology and trained its providers in treating adults. In addition, it’s planning to use the funding to gain more Medicaid contracts, Parks said.
Equip considers itself an alternative to brick-and-mortar eating disorder treatments, which often require patients to stay at the treatment facility for a certain period. Parks said the benefit of a virtual program is that patients can be treated as they live their normal lives.
“[If you take] someone out of their life and give them a bunch of skills, then all of the sudden they plop back into their life and have all these triggers that they aren’t equipped to deal with,” Parks argued. “One of the great things about getting treatment while still being able to go to school, still being able to go to your job, still being able to parent your kids, is that you get to work with your providers on your real-life triggers as they come up.”
Parks is likely looking to replicate the positive results it claims to have achieved in the adolescent population in this new, adult population. In its annual outcomes report published earlier this year, the company cited that 81% of its adolescent patients reached or maintained their target weight within one year.
Photo credit: Bohdan Skrypnyk, Getty Images