Can the Internet tackle eating disorders?

Flinders researchers are studying the role of online programs to tackle eating disorders.

Flinders researchers are studying the role of online programs to tackle eating disorders.

Researchers from Flinders University are leading an Australia and New Zealand-wide trial of online programs for young women with body image concerns.

Believed to be the first national approach to eating disorder prevention in Australia, the programs target women aged 18 to 25 years who are experiencing eating disorder symptoms including concerns about their body weight and shape; difficulty concentrating on other areas of their life; or those who are following stringent food and exercise regimes to lose weight.

Chief investigator Dr Simon Wilksch, a Research Fellow based in Flinders University’s School of Psychology, said the aim of the project is to see whether one or more of the online programs can reduce the risk of eating disorder onset.

“There are a number of positive efforts in Australia to make body image programs available to school-aged children but there’s a significant gap when it comes to young adults with body image concerns,” Dr Wilksch said.

“This cohort is very unlikely to access help for such concerns before they have led to more entrenched problems such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety and self-harm,” he said.

“But through the confidential, online nature of these programs, we hope young women will feel comfortable seeking assistance.

“Importantly, two of the programs have shown benefit in previous trials in school and university settings, so we are interested in evaluating if they are valuable in the wider community.”

According to a recent report by the Butterfly Foundation, more than 913,000 Australians were suffering from an eating disorder in 2012 at an estimated socioeconomic cost of $69.7 billion.

If the online programs are found to prevent eating disorders, Dr Wilksch said it is hoped they will be made available throughout Australia and internationally “to help as many people as possible”.

InDaily in your inbox. The best local news every workday at lunch time.
By signing up, you agree to our User Agreement andPrivacy Policy & Cookie Statement. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

“As a clinician who works in this field providing treatment to adolescents and adults suffering from eating disorders, I am regularly reminded of the devastating effects of these illnesses on both the sufferer directly, and on their family and loved ones,” he said.

“Online programs have the benefit of being extremely cost-effective to deliver with the potential to reach enormous numbers of people in need. Evidence-based programs should form an important part of our overall efforts to reduce and prevent suffering in this area.”

As part of the NHMRC-funded Promoting Positive Body Image Online trial, participants will complete an online questionnaire and then be allocated to one of three separate programs. Following completion of their allocated program, participants will be asked to complete the questionnaire again and then on two further occasions six and 12 months later. Those who complete all questionnaires will receive a $50 iTunes voucher as a reimbursement for their time.

To find out more about the trial or to participate visit:

Local News Matters
Copyright © 2024 InDaily.
All rights reserved.