How Can I Help as a Healthy Control?

Are you a healthy female between the ages of 16 – 40? Want to help us learn more about eating disorders? Prompts like these (with some aimed at men, children or teens) are printed boldly across flyers, local newspaper ads and Craigslist, inviting healthy people who do not have eating disorders or weight problems to participate in our Center’s research. But if you are a person without an eating disorder, why would you participate in eating disorders research?

Your participation is an act of community service!

The role of a healthy control is to contribute information that will help researchers better understand problems affecting a clinical population. People walk, run, bike and swim in charity races; they volunteer at animal shelters; they serve food in soup kitchens, and plant flowers in public parks. Participating in a scientific study is another form of contributing to the community. In our program, it is a chance to get your brain and body involved in helping us to answer critical questions about eating behavior, exercise, biology, and more.

Engage in a learning opportunity – for everyone.

There is a lot of misinformation about eating disorders and related behaviors like dieting and exercise (and their consequences). We are invested in using scientific methods to learn the answers to questions such as, “How hard will you work for time to exercise?” and “Are there genetic markers for certain behaviors or illnesses?” When you participate as a control, you join our fact-finding mission. And, bonus: your participation may be informative for you, too.

If you are totally unfamiliar with the world of research, participation offers a window into intriguing areas of scientific study and the research process. For example, ever wonder what happens in your brain when you see a picture of an ice cream sundae or a plate of raw veggies? In one of our current studies, we use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to see what “lights up” in a person’s brain while they look at and make decisions about images of food. Many of our studies also involve interviews in which our staff will ask you a variety of questions about your typical eating behavior and feelings about your body shape and weight. If you are a researcher yourself (or studying to be one), by participating as a control you will have an opportunity to satisfy your curiosity about what it feels like to be on “the other side” of a study, as a subject.

Earn a little something extra for yourself while you’re at it.

You will of course be paid for your contribution to science (be it through confidential interviews, computer assessments, imaging procedures, or meal studies in our laboratory kitchen) and for helping us distill fact from myth.

But, you may ask: Why would we be looking for healthy individuals to take part in studies about eating disorders?

When studying any clinical condition (in our case, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and obesity), part of understanding its features is to study how they might differ between individuals with and without the particular condition.

Our research team aims to “match” our patient population with healthy controls based on a number of factors like height, weight, age, and sometimes very study-specific characteristics. For instance, in a study looking at how people make decisions about food, we seek control participants who do not have food allergies that might significantly impact their decisions about food, because this could be a confounding variable potentially contributing to misleading results. Fortunately, a characteristic that excludes you from one study may not exclude you from others – and with an ever-evolving roster of studies, we are always looking for healthy controls.

What should you do if you’re interested in learning more about participating as a healthy control?

The first step is to call us and answer some questions. After you are screened and determined to be eligible for a particular study, the procedures will be described to you in great detail. You will have an opportunity to meet with our research staff to learn more about the specific purpose of the study. After signing a consent form agreeing to participate, your testing will be scheduled. And if at any point you decide that you’d rather not participate as you’d originally planned, just let us know – all research participation is completely voluntary.

Whether you are finishing an academic semester, between jobs, or looking to contribute some community service in the name of science, we invite you to give us a call (646-774-8066) or visit our website to find out if you are eligible to join us on our research mission!

Photo credit: Creative Commons by danor shtruzman

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Katrina Kostro

Katrina was born and raised on New York City's upper-Upper West Side. She swims, sings, downward-dogs, and shares thoughts between inhale and exhale.


  1. […] This past Sunday, members of our team took to the streets – quite literally – to share information about our research opportunities at a street fair on the Upper West Side.  Conveniently situated next to a crepes and lemonade stand, we enjoyed the opportunity to talk with those walking by who were interested to learn more about opportunities to participate in research at our clinic. […]

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