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InPsych 2011 | Vol 33

Cover feature : The psychology of eating disturbances

APS highlights psychological factors in addressing eating disturbances

Over the last few years, the APS has made some significant contributions to addressing the problems of eating disturbances which are increasingly prevalent in our community. These have highlighted psychological interventions for obesity, the impact of advertising ‘junk food’ to children, and psychological factors involved in the development of body image problems in young girls. To provide a forum to raise awareness of the importance of psychological factors and the role of psychologists in addressing eating disturbances, an APS Interest Group was established in 2010.

Behaviour change in obesity

The APS made a submission and presentation to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Obesity in Australia in 2008, arguing that obesity can usually only be effectively addressed with significant behaviour change often involving psychological understandings and interventions. An information booklet on a weight management model of psychological care has been developed in conjunction with the APS College of Health Psychologists, outlining psychological interventions for the prevention, treatment and relapse management of overweight and obese problems. The material was finalised for distribution at the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society (ANZOS) 2009 conference in Melbourne. The APS has also developed media releases in this area, and the Herald Sun published an article in January this year, “Thinking about weighty matters”, featuring health psychologist Dr Helen Lindner. Earlier this year the APS provided a submission to the Draft report for the review of MBS items: Items for the surgical treatment of obesity, highlighting the need for behaviour change interventions to be trialled before any surgical intervention.

Junk food advertising to children

The APS made a submission to the Protecting children from junk food advertising (Broadcasting amendment) Bill 2008, arguing that inappropriate advertising of such food has the potential for a range of psychological effects on children. The submission concluded that comprehensive, multi-faceted prevention approaches must be adopted, and that increased regulation was likely to have the greatest impact on reducing levels of food-related harm. The 2008 Bill was not passed, the industry’s self-regulation has been ineffective, and public health and medical organisations are once again stepping up calls for an end to advertising of junk to children. The APS is ready to add its voice to any subsequent inquiries or calls for an end to junk food advertising.

Encouraging positive self image in children

Over the past few years, the APS has contributed to debates about the effects of sexualised images on the wellbeing of young people through formal submissions to government inquiries, media releases and resources. Submissions have presented the research that links sexualisation with a common mental health problem of girls and women – eating disorders – and have called for media education for children in schools to establish critical viewing skills, among other recommendations. The APS has developed a Tip Sheet. Helping girls develop a positive self image, which presents information and advice to parents to encourage their girls to develop positive body imagee.

APS Psychology of Eating, Weight and Body Image Interest Group

This APS Interest Group was established in 2010 as there are few professional forums that encompass eating disorders and disordered eating, overweight and obesity, and body image.

The importance of psychological factors and the role of psychology are often overlooked in these areas. Additionally, despite the high and increasing prevalence of eating, weight and body image disorders, the recognised importance of prevention and treatment efforts, and the identified need for improved professional training, there are relatively few opportunities for professional training and support. The Interest Group aims to provide health professionals and students who have an interest in eating, weight and body image with the opportunity to share information, network with others with similar interests, and undertake professional development.

In response to a survey of its members’ interests and professional needs, the Interest Group has this year held a networking dinner with a seminar on health behaviour change and motivational interviewing techniques, and will hold a changing eating behaviours workshop in November. A mini-conference is also being planned for November as a forum for researchers, clinicians and students to present their eating, weight and body image-related work. More information on these activities can be found in the Interest Group’s latest newsletter.

Further information and application forms to join the APS Psychology of Eating, Weight and Body Image Interest Group can be found at www.groups.psychology.org.au/pewbi/.


Disclaimer: Published in InPsych on August 2011. The APS aims to ensure that information published in InPsych is current and accurate at the time of publication. Changes after publication may affect the accuracy of this information. Readers are responsible for ascertaining the currency and completeness of information they rely on, which is particularly important for government initiatives, legislation or best-practice principles which are open to amendment. The information provided in InPsych does not replace obtaining appropriate professional and/or legal advice.