Promoting healthy eating + preventing eating disorders in children

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Schwartz, C., Waddell, C., Barican, J., Andres, C., Gray-Grant, D., & Irick, M. (2015). Promoting healthy eating and preventing eating disorders in children. Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, 9 (2), 1–16. Vancouver, BC: Children’s Health Policy Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University.

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Background: Most young people feel satisfied with their body size and shape and most do not engage in potentially problematic weight loss behaviours. However, for young people who exhibit early signs of eating or body image concerns, intervening early can help reduce symptoms of eating disorders.   

Methods: We used systematic review methods to identify randomized control trials (RCTs) evaluating interventions for preventing eating disorders in children and youth. Applying our inclusion criteria to the 38 studies identified from our searches, we accepted six RCTs.

Results: Our review found a universally-delivered Education Program to Italian girls in high school prevented new cases of bulimia nervosa. Two programs targeted to girls with body image concerns — Healthy Weight and Dissonance — reduced eating disorder symptoms. Finally, a program targeted to overweight teens — Student Bodies — reduced binge eating episodes and improved skills for managing eating and physical activity.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that eating disorders can be prevented, particularly if risks are addressed early in the lifespan. Consequently, eating disorder prevention programs should be part of the mental health program continuum for young people.

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