Young People, Eating Disorders & Prevention
Research has shown that young people are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders – 75% of cases of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, and 50% of Binge Eating Disorder and OSFED cases develop prior to the age of 22 years (Bailey et al., 2014).
Adolescence and young adulthood are a time of significant biological, psychological and social change and young people are often vulnerable to major risk factors such as body perception or dissatisfaction and low self-esteem.
A 2014 study on risk factors of purging in female adolescents identified several variables that increased the risk of purging; these included higher BMI, suicide attempts, overweight self-perception, parental poverty, depression, impulsivity and low self-esteem (Stephen et al 2014).
Another recent Australian study showed that in a group of 1,400 Western Australian adolescents, 63% of girls wanted to be thinner (6% wanted to be bigger) and 38% of boys wanted to be thinner, while 21% wanted to be bigger. Body image dissatisfaction was highly associated with physical appearance for both genders, with boys relating dissatisfaction to low athletic competence and girls relating dissatisfaction to low (global) self-worth, athletic competence and close friendship domains (Chin-A-Loy et al., 2014).
And these are not brief, point-in-time concerns. Longitudinal research into the attitudes of adolescents towards their own bodies shows that body dissatisfaction either sustained or increased over time, with both males and females becoming progressively more dissatisfied with their body image as they move throughout adolescence and into young adulthood (Bucchianeri et al., 2013).
The development of an eating disorder is a complex, multi-factorial process incorporating biological, psychological, social and environmental factors. Issues related to body satisfaction, disordered eating, low self-esteem and environmental exposure to pressures are the most modifiable risk factors and effective universal and targeted prevention strategies for young people needs to address these issues; to reduce risk factors, enhance protective factors and ultimately decrease the rate and impact of eating disorders in our society.
Prevention strategies focus on psychoeducation, cognitive dissonance and cognitive-behavioural therapeutic approaches, often incorporating media literacy, self expression and positive peer engagement.
Research shows that current programs generally result in an increased knowledge and awareness of public presentations of beauty, body image and eating disorders, but do not necessarily effectively decrease risk factors or change personal attitudes or eating pathology (Bailey et al., 2014). Prevention and intervention strategies continue to undergo further development, research and evaluation to effectively motivate behavioural and attitudinal change in young people.
Bailey, A. P., Parker, A. G., Colautti, L. A., Hart, L.M., Liu, P. & Hetrick, S.E. Mapping the evidence for the prevention and treatment of eating disorders in young people (2014). Journal of Eating Disorders 2014, 2:5.
Bucchianeri, M. M., Arikian, A. J., Hannan, P. J., Eisenberg, M. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. Body dissatisfaction from adolescence to young adulthood: Findings from a 10-year longitudinal study (2013). Body Image. 2013 Jan;10(1):1-7.
Chin-A-Loy, K., Robinson, M., Allen, K., Jacoby, P. & McLean, N. Self-concept and body image dissatisfaction in West Australian adolescent boys and girls (2014). Proceedings of the 2014 Australia and New Zealand Academy for Eating Disorders (ANZAED) Conference: Driven Bodies Driven Brains. Journal of Eating Disorders 2014, 2(Suppl 1):O58.
Stephen, E., Rose, J., Kenney, L., Rosselli-Navarra, F., & Weissman, R. Adolescent risk factors for purging in young women: findings from the national longitudinal study of adolescent health (2014). Journal of Eating Disorders 2014, 2:1.
If you are an NEDC member you can also find further reading on prevention programs in the NEDC Prevention and Early Intervention Report, available in the Members’ Lounge.
Back to top