Boost for body image program

dr-simon-wilksch-and-prof-tracey-wadeA popular school-based eating disorder prevention program created by researchers from Flinders University is set to become an iPhone app.

Dr Simon Wilksch (pictured, left) and Professor Tracey Wade (pictured, right) from the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences have received a $50,000 State Government grant to expand Media Smart – an eight-lesson body image program – into a phone application and website.

Aimed at students in Years 7 to 9, the existing media literacy program includes information for teachers, detailed lesson plans and a workbook to educate young people on topics such as airbrushing, media representation and peer pressure.

Dr Wilksch, a postdoctoral fellow from the School of Psychology, said the plan was to now make Media Smart more accessible and relevant to an older adolescent and early-adult audience at high-risk of an eating disorder.

“One of the main points of difference from the original version of Media Smart is that we’re not only taking it online, we’re also enhancing the program to specifically target young adults who are showing early signs of an eating problem,” Dr Wilksch said.

“In the past the program has focused on entire classes of young adolescents in a school-based setting but we’re hoping this time to be able to prevent eating disorders in older, high-risk individuals who might otherwise go on to develop these serious problems,” he said.

Media Smart was developed in 2005, evaluated and later made available for schools to buy and download through the Flinders website in 2010, with the program since running in schools across Australia, Japan and Malaysia.

A large-scale evaluation of the program, involving 540 Year 8 students from 24 South Australian classes, half of which did not complete the course, found that students who took part in Media Smart had significantly lower levels of important eating disorder risk factors, even two years after finishing the course, with 98 per cent describing the program as valuable and enjoyable.

Dr Wilksch said a recent Flinders study of more than 9,000 young women nationally revealed 23 per cent of them were experiencing “disordered eating”, including skipping meals, binge eating and using diet pills, which further highlighted the importance of more accessible support programs.

“Translated to the local context our research suggests that many thousands of young South Australian women are experiencing the numerous serious consequences that accompany disturbed body image and disordered eating,” he said.

“Other studies have told us that young people consider more realistic media messages and greater access to positive body image messages as the two most helpful ways of improving body image, and this project will address both of those needs.”

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