Families, media and education crucial in preventing eating disorders

The process of educating young people on the prevention of eating disorders needs to start as early as middle-school, emphasizes Danny J. Ballard, a Texas A&M University health education professor.

Ballard, who specializes in women’s health and school health education, said that 5 to 10 million women and a million men in the United States suffer from some type of eating disorder or borderline condition that could lead to an eating disorder. She says the two most common eating disorders in the United States are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Ballard says there are three different factors in a young adolescent’s life where cultural obsession with slenderness might be counter-balanced to help prevent eating disorders.

The first factor is the family and how it can create an environment at home that promotes self-worth and a positive self-image. Families need to focus on the child’s qualities outside of their appearance and weight, Ballard notes.

To do this, she says parents must focus on the child’s activities and accomplishments rather than be preoccupied with the child’s weight. Parents must also serve as role models in the child’s life and maintain a healthy fitness program for themselves rather than an obsessive one, she adds.

The second factor is the role the media plays in a child’s perception of body image. Ballard said adolescents are bombarded with many messages each day telling them they will be more accepted and more valued if they are more attractive and achieve a certain weight.

“As a society we need to learn to look at advertisements, television shows and movies as stories and not true to real life. Children and adults need to learn to critically view the media and understand that the media’s portrayal of what is worthy and attractive doesn’t have to define what we think is worthy and attractive,” she observed.

Society needs to promote a healthier body image and place more value and emphasis on the intellectual, fine arts and self-worth to prevent eating disorders from becoming an even deadlier disease than it is, Ballard points out.

The third factor important in preventing eating disorders is a child’s educators and education. Ballard recommends schools create a healthy and positive environment where all students are treated equally regardless of size. Educators should teach children through their own actions how to treat others and also stress healthy practices in daily lives, she says, adding that physical, health and nutrition programs should be implemented to provide children with healthy body image norms.

Ballard’s research includes several topics related to women’s health issues and school health education such as the role fathers play in their daughters’ lives, what educational programs are offered in women’s centers and the role of domestic violence in incarcerated women. She has co-authored a book on contemporary women’s health that is used in her women’s health class.

CONTACT: Danny Ballard at 979-845-7649 or dannyb@tamu.edu.

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