Eating Disorder Prevention – Let’s Talk About It

Contributed by: Stephanie Haines

Thanks to the many talented researchers in the field of eating disorders, we have come a long way in our understanding of the elements that make prevention efforts successful. Both targeted and universal approaches improve outcomes when these evidence-based principles are followed:

  • The program is interactive.
  • The program has multiple sessions.
  • The program is delivered by an outside expert.
  • The program avoids direct information about eating disorders (Stice et al., 2007)

In 2013, The Walden Center for Education and Research created a school-based eating disorder prevention program designed to encompass these tenets while aiming to prevent the escalation of factors known to encourage disordered eating patterns.

The program focuses on helping participants develop an understanding of what a healthy relationship with food and exercise looks like, while also strengthening behaviors and ideas that help build resiliency in the face of unrelenting social pressures (from both internal and external influences). Discussions, activities, small group exercises, and formal presentations are used to engage audiences.

The Key Components of the School-Based Eating Disorder Prevention Program

A key component of the program is empowerment – helping kids and adults feel more confident and comfortable talking about and expressing their concerns regarding their own or someone they knows disordered eating behaviors.

The belief is that if students, parents, teachers, and other staff are better able to recognize the early warning signs of disordered eating or an eating disorder, with the right tools, they will be able to appropriately intervene and provide proper resources. Early intervention dramatically increases an individual’s chances at recovery.

Who Is The Program For?

Currently, Walden Center’s School-Based Eating Disorder Program provides targeted prevention programs to student groups at the middle and high school levels. When school and community representatives are involved in pre-planning, the program is more effective because it meets the unique needs of each group of students.

Based on the circumstances that the school community is experiencing or in need of support around, clinicians, outreach associates, and prevention education specialists, in various combinations, are used to deliver tailor-built programs.

Reaching Out to Raise Awareness and Get People Help

Since January of 2014, Walden Center’s prevention program has been presented to 1,190 students and 164 school staff members and personnel in the state of Massachusetts. Post-presentation data has shown that:

  • 7 out of 10 students reported feeling more confident about how to express concern about themselves or a friend to an adult.
  • 88% of students stated that the presentation was helpful to them personally.
  • Nearly 30% stated that they would like more education about body image and eating disorders.

Some of the most insightful information though was discovered through conversations where many students shared a personal struggle or the helplessness they felt when they have watched a friend, a sibling or even a parent endure an eating disorder with no support.

Discussion during presentations revealed that many students could identify when a behavior was a potential red flag, but translating that into action was often much more challenging. As adults, our role is to help mentor students, but also to provide a safe environment where students feel they can come forward with information.

Activity For the Program is Rising

Schools and organizations are scheduling Walden Center prevention programs every day. Our hope is to expand our reach to audiences all over New England in the coming years. We will continue to create new ways to reach the communities we work with and to measure their feedback.

In so doing, we can add to the prevention field data on the efficacy of prevention efforts. We can’t prevent every eating disorder case, but we can help with early detection and intervention.

About the author:

Stephanie Haines is a Senior Education Prevention Specialist for Walden Center for Education and Research. In this role, she teaches students, teachers, administrators and caregivers in the New England area about the prevention of eating disorders in the school community. In addition to her work with Walden Center, Ms. Haines is a Senior Prevention Specialist for the non-profit organization Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD).

During her 14 year tenure with FCD, she has taught thousands of students at hundreds of schools across five continents about the prevention of alcohol, drug, and tobacco abuse. Her ability to engage students and adults of all ages is matched by her command of the scientific evidence-base unpinning the field of adolescent development and prevention best practices. Prior to her work with FCD, Ms. Haines was a licensed occupational therapist working with students aged four to 12. She holds a B.S. degree in Behavioral Science from Granite State College and a M.Ed. in Health Education, Eating Disorders from Plymouth State University.


Stice, E., Shaw, H., & Marti, C.N. (2007). A meta-analytic review of eating disorder prevention programs: Encouraging findings. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 3, 207-231.

Wilksch, S.M. (2014). Where did universal prevention go? Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 22:2, 184-192.