Effective strategic communication uses a variety of means. Research shows that the effectiveness of messages being understood and acted upon increases with the number and type of channels used to disseminate them.
Eating disorders communication strategies require a multi-strand approach that includes, but is not limited to:
- Media literacy – teaching intended audiences (usually young people) to deconstruct media messages in order to identify the sponsor’s motives.
- Media advocacy – changing the social environment in which individual health decisions are made by influencing the mass media’s selection of topics and by shaping the database about those topics.
- Social marketing – placing health promotion messages in the media or in public spaces to increase awareness of eating disorders.
- Educational / entertainment programs – embedding eating disorder messages into entertainment and news programs.
- Collaboration – increasing support and channels for positive communication through partnerships within the eating disorder and other sectors.
Do no harm
Care must be taken in promoting information about eating disorders in order to ensure positive outcomes rather than accidental harm. The challenge is similar to that faced by health promotion and prevention campaigns for other health issues such as illicit drug use and binge drinking. Research indicates that without due caution, highlighting the symptoms or effects of eating disorders may increase the prevalence of the disorder.
It is recommended that key messages are tailored and tested for audiences, especially in the case of messages for those at risk of developing an eating disorder. There is a potential for harm in talking about eating disorders in a detailed way to people at risk.
All communication about eating disorders should contribute to one or more of the following three behavioural goals:
- Recognition – broad community awareness and understanding of eating disorders as a priority mainstream health issue to increase support and reduce stigma.
- Resilience – ability to resist pressures towards high risk behaviours for eating disorders.
- Help seeking – eating disorders and risk factors are identified at an early stage leading to early intervention and reduction in the impact of the illness.