Eating disorders have a significant and underestimated impact on Australian society.

They occur in individuals of any gender, age, cultural or socioeconomic background. While estimates of the incidence of eating disorders vary between countries and studies, there is consensus that eating disorders, disordered eating and body image issues affect approximately 9% of the population and have increased worldwide over the last 30 years.

Developing strong prevention and early intervention programs and tools online is critical in addressing the increasing prevalence of eating disorders in Australia. This is particularly true for adolescents and young adults who regularly interact, learn and connect in online spaces.

Research has shown that having the correct information and gaining the right education about eating disorders can help prevent an eating disorder from developing and can encourage early help-seeking for those requiring support. Being informed can also ease the suffering of a person in the early stages of the illness and can reduce the stigma and misconceptions that often surround those who have an eating disorder.

In 2014, the National Eating Disorders Collaboration partnered with ReachOut Australia to run workshops with young people aged between 16 and 25 to better understand their online information needs and explore how to increase engagement with online resources.

Findings from the workshops indicated that young people were not able to recognise the need for relevant support for those in the early stages of an eating disorder. Their low literacy about eating disorders meant that they would be unlikely to seek out a dedicated online resource in this area and were more likely to seek help or information for comorbid issues rather than an eating disorder specifically.

Workshop participants were asked to generate a set of User Experience Guidelines and Goals to help stakeholders understand what young people want in an online resource. It became apparent that products for young people need to: help them understand what is happening, provide easy access to relevant information, provide actionable help, show them they are not alone, be accessible on their smartphones and allow them to remain anonymous when accessing information.

Findings from these workshops including the user experience guidelines and goals are outlined in a new report: Eating Disorders & Online Resources for Young People: User Experience Guidelines for Prevention and Early Intervention of Eating Disorders. The report can be downloaded from: http://nedc.com.au/online-resources-for-young-people.

This report has also been used to inform the development of eatingdisordersinfo.org.au, a new online resource for adolescents and young adults.

Eatingdisordersinfo.org.au is a mobile responsive website designed to be relevant and engaging to young people who are either at risk of or experiencing an eating disorder or who want to access online resources to help a friend or family member. This resource can also be implemented by education, community and health professionals in their professional practice.

It is hoped that the findings and outcomes of this project provide a guide for developing other online resources that seeks to educate, assure and help young people dealing with an eating disorder.

The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) is an initiative of the federal Department of Health and Ageing and a collaboration of people and organisations with an expertise and/or interest in eating disorders. NEDC aims to improve the health outcomes of people with, or at risk of developing an eating disorder in Australia, recognising the need to take a long-term approach to promotion, prevention and early intervention for eating disorders.

More information and resources for young people and professionals can be found on the NEDC website: http://www.nedc.com.au/


Learn more about obesity and eating disorders at our Melbourne seminar. You can also find out more about the new online resources from NEDC representatives in our exhibition space in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.