User Experience Guidelines for Prevention and Early Intervention of Eating Disorders
Developing strong prevention and early intervention programs and tools online is critical in addressing the increasing prevalence of eating disorders in Australia, and this is especially the case for children and adolescents, who regularly interact, learn and connect in online spaces.
In 2014, a need was identified in relation to online access to information for young people about eating disorders. The National Eating Disorders Collaboration partnered with ReachOut.com to run workshops with young people, to better understand their online information needs and to explore how to increase engagement with online resources.
Studies have shown that digital technologies are a significant part of a young person’s everyday life, with Internet usage ever increasing. Research has also indicated that young people search the Internet and use online resources to assist them in finding information on various mental health issues.
This project sought to explore young people’s help seeking and information needs online, particularly in relation to eating disorders. This was used to inform the development of an online resource that would 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.
Findings from the workshops indicated that young people possess low literacy around disordered eating and eating disorders. Participants were not able to recognise the need for relevant support for those in the early stages of an eating disorder and believed that personas could overcome an eating disorder via self-help and information seeking.
Friends and family were seen as the first points of contact for support and participants stated that friends or family would be instrumental in motivating change or help seeking for an eating disorder.
Identified barriers or deterrents to help seeking included the portrayal of unattainable body images in the media, lack of community awareness and education, general stigma around eating disorders and a lack of information or advice around a ‘healthy alternative’ to help prevent or overcome an eating disorder.
Young people’s low literacy about eating disorders means that they would be unlikely to seek out a dedicated online resource in this area. They were more likely to seek help or information for comorbid issues rather than an eating disorder specifically.
Participants generated a set of User Experience Guidelines and goals to help stakeholders understand what young people want in an online resource. It became apparent that products for young people need to: help them understand what is happening, provide easy access to relevant information, provide actionable help, show them they are not alone, be accessible on their smartphones and allow them to remain anonymous when accessing information.
Young people also stated that language, messaging and design and experience in an online resource also need to be tailored in order to reach and appeal to young audiences. Language used should be informal, to the point and easy to understand, with minimal use of statistics and complex terminology. Messages should be clear and relevant, with an emphasis on letting young people know they are not alone in their experience. Messaging should also avoid any use of confronting terms (e.g. “mental illness”).
In addition to being accessible on a smartphone, resources must also be designed in a way that is simple to navigate, highly visual (infographics, videos), relevant in terms of imagery (i.e. no generic stock images) and gender neutral.
All of these findings have been summarised in the new NEDC report: Eating Disorders and Online Resources for Young People: User Experience Guidelines for Prevention and Early Intervention of Eating Disorders. Download the report.
If you had any questions about the report including how to implement its findings in your professional practice please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The collaborative process between the NEDC and ReachOut.com to carry out this project has been invaluable, bringing expertise in evidence-based eating disorders information together with expertise in engaging with young people and interpreting their needs.
Special thanks also to the young participants who took part in this research. The NEDC and ReachOut.com appreciate your enthusiasm, dedication and generosity.
Details on the online youth resource developed out the findings from this report can be found later in this e-Bulletin.
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