In addition, young people and adults who diet and use unhealthy weight-control practices gain more weight over time and are at higher risk of becoming overweight or developing obesity.
In the last three decades, worldwide rates of obesity have doubled and instances of obesity and eating disorders occurring at the same time have quadrupled. This extreme rise illustrates the urgent need to address the relationship between eating disorders and obesity, and the research-based recommendations of health promoting activities.
The aim of health promotion activities is to shape the knowledge and behaviours of community members to prevent disease and improve health. At present, the health promotion strategies for obesity and eating disorders tend to be conducted separately; however, there is growing evidence to suggest that a shared approach could be of benefit.
Obesity and eating disorders: a shared approach
Coordinated and consistent messaging promoting health outcomes for overweight and eating disorder problems is possible, especially in the area of prevention. Focusing on the risk and protective factors that are common to eating disorders and obesity presents an opportunity to collaborate and redirect people in a positive direction.
Weight and eating-related conditions often occur in an environment where ambiguous and opposing demands and messages are present, for example, ‘taking diet pills will help you lose weight and are therefore good for your health’ is often presented in the same space as warnings to the effect of ‘diet pills are unhealthy and dangerous.’
A first step to reducing the risks and increasing the protective factors for both eating disorders and obesity is to recognise that we all aspire to the same end point – a healthy, disease-free population who eat well, are physically active, and are satisfied with their bodies.
Shared risk factors:
- Being overweight in childhood
- Weight bias and stigmatisation
- Childhood weight-related teasing
- Amount of time spent watching television/using the internet/playing video games
- Media and marketing exposure
- Dieting and disordered eating
- Poor body image
- Depressive symptoms and anxiety
- Family talk about weight, parent weight-concern and weight-related behaviours (e.g. dieting)
Shared protective factors:
- Enjoying physical activity
- Positive body image
- High self-esteem
- Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner every day
- Family modelling of healthy behaviours (e.g. avoiding unhealthy dieting, engaging in physical activity, having regular and enjoyable family meals)