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How to make prevention programs effective

teenage boy

Research has shown that the most effective eating disorder prevention programs:

  • Use a health promotion approach, focusing on building self-esteem, positive body image and a balanced approach to nutrition and physical activity
  • Utilise interactive approaches, as young people may learn more this way
  • Develop social and relational practices that incorporate the person’s support network
  • Are based on a theoretical or clinical understanding of how a risk factor, such as poor body image, can lead to an eating disorder; and how protective factors, such as high self-esteem and coping skills, can reduce risk of an eating disorder
  • Use developmentally appropriate materials
  • Are socio-culturally relevant to the target audience
  • Focus on strengthening protective factors
  • Follow a multi-session structure, allowing for both direct experience and time between sessions for reflection (this is necessary to reinforce learning)
  • Include a long-term follow-up; just as discussions about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol or drugs do not end after the initial program, discussions about healthy eating, cultural values and prejudices towards eating illnesses and obesity should be ongoing

Topics for a successful prevention program for children and young adults may include:

  • Media literacy and advocacy
  • Promoting a balanced approach to nutrition and physical activity
  • Challenging the societal pressures to be thin and emphasising the negative outcomes of pursuing the thin or muscular ideal
  • Personal identity and self-esteem
  • Coping skills

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