Community Action to Prevent Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are best dealt with by integrating healthy lifestyle changes for the entire community

(RxWiki News) Community support and group action to lower obesity and increase positive body image for anorexia and bulimia can be the most effective tool towards preventing and reversing eating disorders.

Researchers analyzed attempts to deal with eating disorders all over the world only to discover surveys and pamphlets aren’t getting the job done. Evidence suggests that the best approach is a community overhaul that changes the environment and the attitudes in it.

"Start a walk-to-school day in your neighborhood!"

David Sanchez-Carracedo, Ph.D. is looking at the big picture when it comes to eating disorders. In a recently published study Sanchez-Carracedo and his colleagues evaluate the ways in which health professionals have been approaching all eating disorders. Contradictory approaches such as telling adolescents with anorexia or bulimia that they have to accept their body type and not diet, whereas telling overweight adolescents that they must diet and exercise is confusing.

There are great similarities between all eating disorders when it comes to managing them and treating them can be similar as well. Almost all of the ‘obesity prevention programs’ that Sanchez-Carracedo’s team looked at tried to promote dietary changes and exercise with little or no regard to the possibility of this causing the eating disorder to worsen or incite unhealthy practices.

Basically, this study takes a look at all of the international attempts to deal with eating disorders in adolescents and discovers major deficiencies in nearly every one. The notable exception for addressing obesity being an initiative tested in northern France. The community got involved, town councils organized to build sports facilities, they organized healthy lifestyle activities as a town, like walk-to-school days, and everyone joined in on the fun.

The results were a great success and France is continuing to implement this community involvement structure, known as EPODE, in more towns in the country. Other countries are starting to take notice and implementing their own community action towards healthier diets and increased physical activity as well.

Sanchez-Carracedo’s team also noticed a trend that medical doctors tend to be the ones involved with preventative approaches to obesity, while mental health professionals tend to be the group trying to prevent all other eating disorders.

The focus should be on health according to Sanchez-Carracedo, not weight management itself. There is a big picture here and it appears to affect all of us. It seems their conclusion is that positive community action can change the environment to one that naturally prevents eating disorders.

This study was published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which is supported by The Nutrition Society in London. Authored by, David Sanchez-Carracedo and Gemma Lopez-Guimera from the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain; and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer from the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA. No conflicts of interest were found.

Review Date: 
April 4, 2012