Universal prevention efforts target whole communities (e.g. national, local, community, district, school classroom) and aim to promote general health and well-being, foster resilience and reduce the risk of eating disorders amongst non-symptomatic populations. For example, this can be achieved in schools, by targeting the entire student body.
In the short-term, universal prevention programs may increase resiliency and decrease risk factors. In the long-term, it is expected that those changes will lead to fewer eating problems and fewer cases of eating disorders.
Universal prevention approaches:
- Aim to help all; they may help those who are at high-risk and prevent eating disorders onset long-term while also promoting the general health and well-being of those at minimal risk of eating disorders.
- May help children learn how to manage the socio-cultural influences linked to the development of body image dissatisfaction.
- Middle school students (ages 12 – 15) are an appropriate group for universal prevention approaches as many personal and environmental risk factors that can trigger an eating disorder are known to develop during this stage of early adolescence.
These include but are not limited to:
- natural increases in body fat and weight associated with puberty
- an increased desire for peer acceptance
- onset of romantic interest
- changes in academic expectations
The aims of universal interventions may include:
- Improving general health, nutrition, and psychological well-being e.g., self-esteem, positive body image
- Enhancing media literacy which promotes media advocacy and critical evaluation of media messages
- Helping children learn how to manage the socio-cultural influences linked to the development of body image dissatisfaction
- Reducing teasing, including weight-based teasing