Australian school-based prevention programs
Researchers from Flinders University, La Trobe University and University of Western Australia are working on a novel strategy to simultaneously reduce the risk of both eating disorders and obesity among young people.
Believed to be the first attempt in Australia to take a combined prevention approach to eating disorders and obesity, the study has involved a trial of three school-based programs with 2,000 Year 7 and Year 8 students across SA, Victoria and WA over the past two years.
As part of the study, students have been allocated to one of three separate prevention programs consisting of eight lessons in areas such as media representation, body image and self-esteem. The programs are Media Smart, Life Smart and The HELPP Initiative. Students allocated to one of these programs are being compared to a control group of students who did not receive a program and followed for 12-months with the final questionnaire data currently being collected and findings likely to be released in the second half of the year.
Chief investigator Dr Simon Wilksch, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow based in the School of Psychology at Flinders University, said the aim of the project was to see whether one or more of the programs could reduce risk factors for eating disorders and obesity at the same time.
“Prevention programs usually focus on only one of the problems. This has raised concerns with some people suggesting that obesity prevention efforts could worsen young peoples’ body image while others suggest that eating disorder prevention might not focus enough on the importance of healthy weight,” Dr Wilksch said.
“But we now know there are common risk factors for both problems, such as body dissatisfaction and strict dieting, so theoretically a program that can reduce these collective risk factors should reduce the risk of both problems,” he said.
“In my view, a combined approach to preventing these important problems is important in order to ensure we’re not running the risk of sending confusing messages to young people.”
If the findings did show that one or more of the programs could prevent the two issues simultaneously, Dr Wilksch said it was hoped the programs would be made widely available throughout Australian schools “to help as many young people as possible”.
“Body image concerns and eating disorders are problems that affect thousands of young Australians.
“Research tells us that body image is consistently in the top three concerns of adolescent girls and boys, while disordered eating is experienced by nearly a quarter of young Australian women.
“We’re also well aware that obesity conveys a range of negative physical, psychological and economic consequences so it’s really important that we do all we can to prevent these problems and taking a combined approach, we believe, could have more positive results.”
To find out more about this prevention program visit the Media Smart website.
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