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Duke Line program pilots anonymous text services for students struggling with disordered eating

This story contains references to disordered eating.

It is no secret that the pandemic has exacerbated disordered eating at Duke. Even pre-COVID, a survey of college students that tracked the prevalence of disordered eating on campuses over a 13 year period found that the rate of such behaviors has increased significantly in recent years—from 7.9% to 25% for men and from 23.4% to 32.6% for women.

Enter Duke Line, an anonymous text-line for students struggling with disordered eating created by Nancy Zucker, associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and founder of Duke’s Center for Eating Disorders.

Duke Line anonymously connects students to coaches to text about any issue related to disordered eating as well as anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns. It is not a crisis line but rather a support and referral service for users. 

Students who operate the line—called “coaches”—began training in 2019, and the program launched in November 2020. Still in its pilot phase, the program is currently only available for residents of Gilbert-Addoms, Bell Tower and Blue Light. 

Though the program was launched during COVID-19, the “the need for this service will persist far beyond COVID-19,” Zucker said, adding that the program was acutely needed during the pandemic.

A 2017 American College Health Association study of undergraduates found that while 60% of college students reported feeling “very lonely” at least once in the last year, almost 80% of Duke students reported such a feeling. Other factors that contribute to disordered eating—including constant food stimuli and anxiety inducing competition—are also more prevalent at Duke.

Currently, 22 coaches run Duke Line from 5 to 11 p.m. The typical response time is between 20 and 45 seconds, according to Zucker. Coaches receive extensive training through a semester-long seminar course followed by a practicum course in which they begin coaching. 

Duke Line sought to synthesize the best parts of peer programs, Zucker said. Duke’s peer-to-peer service is unique in that the program administrators collect anonymous data not just on program participants but also on coaches. All student operators take a survey every few weeks to monitor their own eating, sleeping and mental wellbeing. 

The program is currently seeking additional coaches and will soon expand beyond the three dorms it currently serves.

Connor Booher

Connor Booher is a Trinity sophomore and a staff reporter for The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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