New research lab tackles body image with Australian of the Year

Flinders psychology researchers are developing new approaches to body image-related issues. Stock photo: Getty Images.

Flinders University is now the home of The Embrace Impact Lab, a new health and wellbeing research initiative to help young Australians and their parents tackle body image issues, supporting a national campaign led by 2023 Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt.

Led by body image researcher Associate Professor Ivanka Prichard at Flinders University, the lab is the new research arm of The Embrace Collective, a national charity on a mission to reach more than one million Australian children with their message to ‘embrace every body’ through educational activities and events in schools, sports clubs and the wider community.

Through The Embrace Kids Classroom Program and other initiatives, the charity disseminates a range of evidence-based, age-appropriate programs to get in early and teach the message of body appreciation to young people, while also educating the parents, educators and professionals around them.

The establishment of the research lab at Flinders University follows the Albanese Government’s announcement of a $6.2 million package for The Embrace Collective to develop and implement nine key programs in 2023-2024 and includes funding for an independent evaluation of these programs to be undertaken by the new lab.

The lab will foster collaboration between multidisciplinary experts that can make an impact on body image policy, health and wellbeing for all ages by enabling the rapid translation of evidence into practice and fill critical research gaps.

The roll-out of the Embrace Kids Classroom Program and the evaluation of its effectiveness will be supported by three South Australian based charities.

Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation, Chris McDermott’s Little Heroes Foundation and leading medical charity Flinders Foundation will work with the Embrace Collective and the University on different aspects of the project, with Breakthrough supporting a PhD position, Little Heroes supporting work in schools and Flinders Foundation supporting researchers to evaluate the program, all of which will help keeps kids healthier.

Associate Professor Ivanka Prichard, from Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Associate Professor Prichard says the partnership will enable her and other research collaborators to evaluate and help improve the impact of the tools being developed by The Embrace Collective to tackle body image issues.

“I’ve worked in body image research for the last 20 years and this partnership is a really exciting step forward in the way that researchers can work with organisations and the community to ensure that the latest research findings translate into real world impact.”

“It also means that the lab will be able to  target key issues for society as they come up and provide the most up-to-date evidence back to The Embrace Collective to inform the policy changes they advocate for.”

2023 Australian of the Year, Taryn Brumfitt, says The Embrace Impact Lab will not only help us fast-track this much-needed research but also turn it into practical, scalable programs and resources so we can reach as many people as possible.

2023 Australian of the Year Tarryn Brumfitt, Dr Zali Yager, Flinders University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Robert Saint and Associate Professor Ivanka Prichard.

“For decades, researchers around the world have been working tirelessly to stem the tide of body image issues and eating disorders. That tide became a tsunami during the COVID-19 pandemic when rates of body image distress and eating disorders increased dramatically, so it’s never been more urgent to translate this research into action and get the help to those who need it.”

“There is so much great research that has been done in the body image space, but too much of it sits on a shelf gathering dust… we need to get these incredible insights and solutions out there!”

“The Embrace Impact Lab provides a complete translational research loop – through close collaboration we can ensure that we have solid research behind these innovative programs and resources, and work together to create new knowledge that can inform changes to policy and practice,” says international body image expert and Embrace Collective co-founder Dr. Zali Yager.

“This is all about making sure that the best, evidence-based programs that have been proven to be effective are actually accessible to young people, as well as the people in home, sport and school settings who support young people and their wellbeing.”

Little Heroes Foundation CEO Chris McDermott, 2023 Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt, Dr Zali Yager, Flinders University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Robert Saint, Associate Professor Ivanka Prichard and Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation CEO John Mannion.

Little Heroes Foundation CEO Chris McDermott says every child deserves access to the very best care.

“With so many kids struggling with their mental health and body image, Little Heroes Foundation considers the introduction of The Embrace Kids Classroom Program and The Embrace Impact Lab a big step toward ensuring their physical and mental well-being. Our investment in the development of the school program will support the  mission to reach one million schoolchildren and teach them to appreciate their bodies and that is a cause that Little Heroes is proud to get behind. ”

Ross Verschoor, Executive Director Flinders Foundation says they are committed to helping South Australian children get the best start in life so they can realise their full potential as healthy, happy adults.

“Flinders Foundation recognise the urgent need to help Australian children embrace their body image and overcome the issues which negatively affect their physical health and mental wellbeing. That’s why we’re proud to work together with Flinders University researchers and The Embrace Collective as they tackle much-needed research so we can minimise young people’s lifetime risk of issues like eating disorders, depression and anxiety.”

Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation CEO John Mannion says the prevalence of mental health issues among our youth is increasing, with mental health, stress and body image being the three major concerns.

“Eating disorders and the mental health of our youth are key focus areas for Breakthrough. We know that investing in research is essential to understand the needs of young people so we can develop more effective interventions based on evidence. The need for a collaborative approach is also paramount in these areas, which is why we proudly support The Embrace Kids Classroom Program and The Embrace Impact Lab.”

Posted in
College of Nursing and Health Sciences News Research Sport, Health, Activity, Performance and Exercise Research Centre