School-Based Prevention Programs for Eating Disorders: Achievements and Opportunities
Riccardo Dalle Grave
Scarce resources are dedicated to research on school-based prevention programs for eating disorders. Despite this, however, recent years have witnessed an abundance of publications on controlled prevention trials. We now have a cumulative body of knowledge available to guide future developments in the prevention of eating disorders. Medline and PsychInfo were searched for the years 1985-2002 to find relevant publications for this review. Nineteen universal and ten targeted school-based prevention programs were identified and then evaluated. The results obtained by the controlled trials evaluated reassure parents, teachers, and stakeholders in the healthcare sector that school-based eating disorder prevention programs do not have harmful effects on student attitudes and behaviors. Targeted prevention programs have obtained promising results in high-risk individuals. Other positive effects have been obtained using an interactive format. Universal prevention programs have unfortunately been disappointing in their ability to change unhealthy behaviors. Results can be improved by gaining a greater understanding of those risk factors which are most strongly linked to eating disorders and most susceptible to change. A broad range of interventions is needed for further consideration. Promising results from the field of eating disorder prevention and from modern risk factor research could build a new generation of universal prevention trials for eating disorders without the methodological limitations seen in the current literature and with real effectiveness in achieving the goal of reducing the prevalence of eating disorders in the general population.
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