Prevention Programs

In the case of people experiencing an eating disorder, ‘prevention’ refers to specific programs or interventions designed to reduce risk factors, enhance protective factors, and ultimately stop the increasing rate of disordered eating and eating disorders in our society.

Early diagnosis, prevention programs, and appropriate cost-effective treatments have proven to greatly reduce the impact of an eating disorder. Modifiable risk factors that have been the main targets for eating disorder prevention research and program implementation include sociocultural appearance pressures, body dissatisfaction, especially weight and shape concerns, and appearance change behaviours such as dieting and excessive exercise. Prevention interventions linked to these risk factors include school-based programs to
address self-esteem, pressures to conform to sociocultural appearance ideals, body dissatisfaction, media,
and social media literacy, dieting and body change behaviours, and interventions involving parents which
aim to prevent eating disorders in children.

Effective Prevention Programs

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 learning may be enhanced through this style of engagement

  • 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 a healthy relationship to food and eating should be ongoing

For more information, please see the NEDC resource Eating Disorders in Schools: Prevention, Early Identification and Response.

Prevention programs - what is included?

Some topics for a successful prevention program for children and young adults 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 

Programs designed to increase positive body image and self esteem should focus on risk factors that can be changed (i.e. thin ideal internalisation, body dissatisfaction, peer pressure, bullying, perfectionism) and on increasing protective factors (i.e. self esteem, social support, respect for diversity).

Targeted prevention programs

Existing media literacy programs in Australia include:

See also

Primary Prevention

Primary prevention interventions aim to prevent the onset or development of an eating disorder and may be universal, selective or…


Secondary Prevention

Secondary prevention interventions aim to lower the severity and duration of an eating disorder in a person who already has…