In our society, a large percentage of young women and men engage in disordered eating behaviour.
Disordered eating behaviours develop in response to negative body image and body dissatisfaction and can lead to serious physical, psychological, and functional problems.
In the case of people living with 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.
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 healthy eating, cultural values and prejudices towards eating illnesses and obesity should be ongoing
For more information, please see the NEDC resource Eating Disorders in Schools: Prevention, Early Identification and Response.
Prevention programs for children through to young adults
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
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, non competitive physical activity, healthy eating behaviours and attitudes, respect for diversity).
Targeted prevention programs
For targeted prevention programs and resources (school, community and sport / fitness), click here.
Preventing Eating Disorders
‘Prevention’ refers to specific programs or interventions designed to reduce risk factors, enhance protective factors and ultimately stop the increasing rate of 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.
Primary prevention interventions aim to prevent the onset or development of an eating disorder and may be universal, selective or indicated. While the aims of all these interventions can vary slightly, they do share common goals that are focused on enhancing the prevention of eating disorders in general.
Secondary prevention interventions aim to lower the severity and duration of an eating disorder in a person who already has the illness. There is considerable overlap between indicated prevention and secondary prevention, with both methods sharing various aims and targeting similar groups.
Through communication platforms such as the media and social media, we are faced with manipulated, filtered and digitally enhanced images. Repeated exposure of such images can result in individuals feeling pressured to adhere to such ideals of appearance, increasing the risk of disordered eating and eating disorders.