Prevention Programs

In our society, a large percentage of young women and men engage in disordered eating behaviour.

Disordered eating behaviours develop in response to high levels of body dissatisfaction and weight concerns and can lead to serious physical, psychological and social problems.

In the case of people with eating disorders, ‘prevention’ refers to specific programs or interventions designed to reduce risk factors, enhance protective factors and ultimately stop the increasing rate of eating disorders in our society.

Early diagnosis, prevention programs and appropriate cost-effective treatments have proven to greatly reduce the impact of an eating disorder.

Effective Prevention Programs

Research has shown that the most effective eating disorder prevention programs:

  • Use a health promotion approach, focusing on building self-esteem, positive body image and a balanced approach to nutrition and physical activity

  • Utilise interactive approaches, as young people may learn more this way

  • Develop social and relational practices that incorporate the person’s support network

  • Are based on a theoretical or clinical understanding of how a risk factor, such as poor body image, can lead to an eating disorder; and how protective factors, such as high self-esteem and coping skills, can reduce risk of an eating disorder

  • Use developmentally appropriate materials

  • Are socio-culturally relevant to the target audience

  • Focus on strengthening protective factors

  • Follow a multi-session structure, allowing for both direct experience and time between sessions for reflection (this is necessary to reinforce learning)

  • Include a long-term follow-up; just as discussions about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol or drugs do not end after the initial program, discussions about healthy eating, cultural values and prejudices towards eating illnesses and obesity should be ongoing

For more information, please see the NEDC resource Eating Disorders in Schools: Prevention, Early Identification and Response.

Prevention programs for children through to young adults

Some topics for a successful prevention program for children and young adults include: 

  • Media literacy and advocacy

  • Promoting a balanced approach to nutrition and physical activity

  • Challenging the societal pressures to be thin and emphasising the negative outcomes of pursuing the thin or muscular ideal

  • Personal identity and self-esteem

  • Coping skills 

Programs designed to increase positive body image and self esteem should focus on risk factors that can be changed (i.e. thin ideal internalisation, body dissatisfaction, peer pressure, bullying and fat talk, perfectionism) and on increasing protective factors (i.e. self esteem, social support, non competitive physical activity, healthy eating behaviours and attitudes, respect for diversity).

Targeted prevention programs

For targeted prevention programs and resources (school, community and sport / fitness), click on Programs in Research and Resources.


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