Effective communication serves to influence social norms, beliefs and behaviours, and is key to bringing about change.

Key communication strategies should contribute to the reduction of risk factors for eating disorders by assisting in the development of resilience and help seeking behaviour, and by working to eliminate the negative stigma currently associated with eating disorders.

Strategies and key messages

Effective and strategic communication uses a variety of means. Research shows that messages are more effective, better understood and more motivating when:

  • They are consistent across different channels and platforms

  • They are communicated via a variety of channels/platforms, rather than only one or two

Key messages and communications about eating disorders should:

  • Be developmentally appropriate for the intended audience and their age

  • Promote understanding of eating disorders as serious, complex illnesses, not a lifestyle choice

  • Provide accurate, evidence-based information

  • Assist people in making appropriate decisions about seeking help

  • Balance representation of males and females, diverse cultures and age groups (unless specifically addressing a single target audience)

  • Be reviewed for ambiguity and possible risk of harm

  • Be monitored and evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure the continuing safety and appropriateness of content

Key messages and communications about eating disorders should not:

  • Describe details of how to engage in eating disorder behaviours

  • Use or provide information on personal measurements in relation to people who have experienced an eating disorder (e.g. weight, amount of exercise, number of hospital admissions)

  • Normalise or glamorise eating disorder behaviours

  • Stigmatise eating disorder behaviours

  • Use judgmental, critical or value-laden language

  • Use fear, stigma or other ‘scare tactics’ to motivate or coerce people to act

Target audiences

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. 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

  • For more info on how to promote positive body image, click here

EatingDisordersInfo is an online tool developed by the NEDC to communicate about eating disorders with young people. This resource has been designed to be relevant and engaging to young people who are either at risk of, or experiencing an eating disorder, or who want to access online resources to help a friend or family member.

This resource can be incorporated into many different training contexts, from media literacy programs and other school curriculum by teachers, to mental health community workshops or pastoral care programs. You can explore it by visiting:

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:

Messages for families, carers and friends

  • 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 for educational institutions:

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 for health professionals:

  • Find current programs and resources available for frontline professionals working in the community;

  • Find current programs and resources available for people working in the sport and fitness sector.



See also

Preventing Eating Disorders

Click on the following links to find out more about eating disorders and: 

Primary Prevention
Secondary Prevention
Prevention Programs
Media Literacy


Do No Harm

Care must be taken in promoting information about eating disorders in order to ensure positive outcomes, rather than accidental harm. Research indicates that without due caution, highlighting the symptoms or effects of eating disorders may increase the prevalence of the disorder.


Media Guidelines

Eating disorders are often misunderstood and underestimated in the community, resulting in inaccurate reporting, stereotyping, and the use of language with a potentially harmful impact.


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