Whose Weight Are You Watching? Schools, Surveillance, and Eating Disorder Prevention

Health class in school is an experience few of us would like to repeat, I’m sure. Though it’s been a good many years since I was subjected to the joys of health education, I continue to think about the types of lessons I had, particularly about eating disorders, and how lacking these were. I can only imagine that things have gotten progressively worse with the focus on the “obesity epidemic” that is so pervasive today.

In one of my favourite articles ever, Pinhas et al. (2013) outline some issues with healthy curricula related to “healthy eating” in schools in the wake of obesity rhetoric. These include:

  • The simplistic “energy in, energy out” message can be highly problematic for some children, who may take this to mean they need to engage in restrictive behaviours
  • Without addressing weight stigmatization in schools, messages about health hold little purchase, and tend to
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Teacher, Learn Thyself: Critical Issues in School-Based Eating Disorder Prevention

Prevention programs for eating disorders abound, though many people I’ve talked to (mostly on Twitter, because that’s where I have a lot of discussions of this type) have expressed the sentiment that limited resources might be better spent on early intervention or treatment in general. Still, it isn’t hard to understand why we still optimistically aim for eating disorder prevention; of course we would rather stop eating disorders in their tracks, before they wreak havoc on the lives of people and their loved ones. I’ve written about my own take on the “is prevention possible” debate elsewhere, highlighting some of my concerns, as well as some more optimistic sentiments about truly systemic prevention efforts.

One of the things I am most concerned about is the fact that prevention tends to take place in the school context, delivered by teachers who may or may not know much about eating disorders … Continue reading →

Reflections on EDAC-ATAC 2014 Conference

Last week I had the opportunity to attend and present at the Eating Disorders Association of Canada (EDAC-ATAC) Biennial Conference in Vancouver, BC. I was presenting part of my Masters thesis, which felt great. I always love talking to clinicians in the field, and I found that this was a very practical and applied-focused conference.

I sometimes feel like somewhat of an outsider at eating disorders conferences as I am “research only”- I do not have the credentials to counsel or treat individuals with eating disorders. However, I felt quite welcome at this conference. People were quite willing to engage with a relative newbie, in typical Canadian fashion.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have noticed that I was tweeting up a storm. You might also have noticed that I was one of the only people doing so. I learned that this association is relatively new, in its … Continue reading →

Political Bodies: What is the Impact of National or Regional-Level Eating Disorder Prevention?

When it comes to prevention, I’ve noticed a strong interest in working toward large-scale prevention initiatives. I’ve written about prevention before, noting the potential for unintended effects, as well as schoolgirls’ reactions to and acceptance of prevention interventions (here). But what about the larger scale efforts to prevent body image concerns and eating disorders?

Countries from the US to Australia to Israel have taken strides to implement initiatives aimed at improving national body image (a lofty goal? Perhaps.); you might have heard about bans on thin runway models and airbrushing, among other efforts. We know that eating disorders are not solely caused by thin-ideal internalization or bad body image; in fact, body image might not even be that useful of a concept for everyone, as I wrote about here.

However, improving body satisfaction could be a useful end goal in and of itself. Why not … Continue reading →

Is Eating Disorder Prevention Possible?

How did I ever find things to write about before social media? Recently, someone on Tumblr asked whether eating disorder prevention and awareness efforts do more harm than good. In other words, can attempting to prevent eating disorders actually contribute to their development? Good question, I thought. I’ve often wondered about this myself, especially in light of some emerging studies suggesting that “healthy eating” campaigns may actually contribute to unhealthy (restrictive) behaviours around food in school children. So off I went to scour the literature. I came up with a number of hits, but surprisingly few from the past few years. With this recent silence in mind, I will look specifically at a meta-analysis by Stice, Shaw & Marti published in 2007 that highlights some of the characteristics of effective prevention programs and comment on some of the potential pitfalls of prevention.

PREVENTION

As a bit of a primer prevention … Continue reading →

The Impact of an Eating Disorder Prevention Program: The Girls’ Perspective

Over the years, I have read a number of articles describing eating disorder prevention programs. Unfortunately, many reveal limited efficacy, and some even highlight detrimental effects. Primary among concerns of those evaluating prevention programs is that even when effective, we often have limited data about the long-term effects of prevention programs. This lack of follow-up limits the ability to draw conclusions about these initiatives and is cause for pause for those interested in implementing strategies to prevent eating disorders.

Further, there is some debate about whether eating disorders are even really “preventable.” Given our understanding of the complex etiology of these disorders, “prevention” can be a loaded word. The nature of the proposed intervention will undoubtedly be heavily swayed toward whichever factor(s) the program’s designer feels is most important in “causing” or contributing to disordered eating (i.e., Is the program tailored toward media awareness? Nutrition? Body image?)

I … Continue reading →