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Target Audiences

teenage girls

Communicating with young people

Puberty is a time of great change biologically, physically and psychologically. Teenagers are often vulnerable to societal pressures and can feel insecure and self-conscious. These are factors that can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. Subsequently, adolescents and their peers are a key audience for communication efforts.

Research shows that adolescents are confused about eating disorders (Inspire Digital, 2010). Young people recognise that eating disorders are potentially harmful; however, they also accept ‘body obsession’ and dieting as normal parts of growing up.

In order to communicate effectively with young people, the avenues taken must be appropriate to what is known about the way teenagers receive, absorb, accept and respond to information.

Messages for young people should:

  • Emphasise positive behaviours for good health
  • Seek to build self-esteem and self-determination
  • Target the need for perfectionism and the internalisation of the thin ideal or body thinness
  • Include media literacy

Communicating with families

Parents and extended family members are instrumental in providing early education on health, achievement and wellbeing. Families serve as role models and can, often inadvertently, place pressure on children and young people to achieve unrealistic physical or ‘body image’ standards.

However, with appropriate education and training, parents and families can support their children by reinforcing appropriate messages they are hearing from school programs and other programs. Similarly, families can contradict inappropriate messages their children receive through media channels, such as magazines, films and television programs.

When communicating about eating disorders to families and parents, the following should be noted:

  • Parents and families require messages that assist to identify symptoms and encourage help-seeking
  • Key messages need to explain the facts about eating disorders and provide information on access to treatment and support
  • Support should be given to parents and families so they can promote good eating habits and a positive body image; parents and carers can often have negative body images themselves and require support for their own needs and their needs as role models
  • Messages should also enhance recognition of risks
  • Parents should provide guidance and teach their children about healthy eating patterns and they often require the right information to do so

Communicating with schools and related institutions

Educational institutions play a large and ongoing role in the influence of young people. They are, therefore, instrumental in delivering positive messaging about body image, healthy eating and exercise behaviours.

Schools can be engaged through: media literacy programs, the compulsory inclusion of relevant content in the curriculum, contact with medical professionals and professional development days.

Related institutions that have been identified as target audiences include dance schools, gyms and sporting clubs. While some junior sports (i.e. soccer and netball) are run through these associations, many sports are also run and organised by volunteers, which can include parents. This can make it more challenging to access and engage these networks.

Appropriate messaging should be customised to target these audience groups in order to ensure effective delivery of messages and to provide the right information and support to make sure that these messages are clearly received.

Further information:

Communicating with health professionals

Frontline health professionals frequently reflect the dominant ideas of their society. For this reason, we require clear, positive and open messages that are focused on these health professionals and their various roles in managing and treating eating disorders.

Without this clear communication, general practitioners and other health professionals can unintentionally promote misconceptions about eating disorders, which can directly impact the responses and explanations a person with an eating disorder may receive when presenting for help.

This may lead to failure or delay in diagnosing and treating the eating disorder. Subsequently, this can also cause distress and shame to the person who is seeking help. Information and education for frontline professionals is an important approach if we are to enable the prevention and early intervention of eating disorders.

Further information:

The role of the media

The media in Australia plays a figural role in communicating about eating disorders and promoting positive body image. However, communication from the media is not consistent and depending on the media outlet, information may vary significantly. Some media channels can promote supportive and helpful advice for raising awareness of eating disorders, while others may negatively reinforce ideas of body image or ‘at risk’ behaviours in vulnerable audiences.

More information:

Fashion and beauty

The Mindframe Initiative does contain relevant information for those working in fashion and beauty journalism. However, the fashion and beauty industry is currently outside the scope of Mindframe and hence, is in need of more research and established communications strategies.

It is of relevance that the fashion industry, as well as advertising and fashion magazine sectors, are all in communication with each other and linked in their communication approaches. As a result, the influence of the fashion and beauty industries flows into advertising styles and body image representations in magazines and other advertising or marketing outlets.

For more information on communicating about eating disorders download the NEDC Communications Strategic Framework.


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