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To what Extent do the Public Need Educating about Eating Disorders?

Background: Previous studies highlight poor education around eating disorders (EDs) amongst the public, alongside negative attitudes towards those affected by EDs, which may reduce opportunities for help-seeking. Little is known about whether improved education regarding EDs gained through experience might impact negative attitudes and to attract government funding for public education campaigns, greater knowledge around levels of education is required.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted to investigate ED education in 10 adult women with experience of an ED attained through a close loved one’s illness and 10 women without experience. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data.

Results: Four themes endorsed by both groups emerged from the data: 1) general education (of individuals, society, health professionals); 2) education regarding the specific nature of the illness (role of food, addiction, severity, impact); 3) knowledge regarding aetiology (biological and social factors, self-esteem and the media); 4) hope and the future (sympathy, empathy and positive outcomes). Experienced participants reported higher education than inexperienced participants although knowledge gaps were observed across all participants and while strong negative views were not expressed, the experienced group offered greater empathy.

Conclusion: The general public are relatively poorly educated about EDs and public education programmes are warranted, targeting the above themes, which appeared to be salient to lay individuals.


Harrison A and Bertrand S

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