Elucidating individuals’ beliefs about the severity of eating disorders and obesity

implications for public health programs

Bianca Bullivant, Deborah Mitchison, Sarah Skromanis, Jonathan Mond*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: To examine perceptions of the severity of eating disorders and obesity and the effects on these of an information manipulation while also considering the influence of potential covariates such as age, gender, physical and mental health and beliefs about the prevalence and causes of the respective conditions. Methods: Australian women and men (n = 488) aged 18–73 years were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: no information, neutral information, eating disorders emphasis and obesity emphasis. Mixed-model analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to compare the perceived severity of eating disorders and obesity (within-subjects factor), while also testing the effect of manipulating information, i.e., selectively emphasising the occurrence and adverse effects of one condition or the other (between-subjects factor), on perceptions of severity. Correlational analysis was used to examine associations between perceptions of severity and potential covariates, those covariates for which significant associations were observed being included as covariates in the ANOVA. Results: Eating disorders were perceived to be a more severe condition than obesity and the information manipulation was largely ineffective. Perceptions of the severity of both eating disorders and obesity were found to be associated with several covariates, including gender, body dissatisfaction, familiarity with and beliefs about the prevalence of eating disorders and beliefs about the causes of both eating disorders and obesity. Conclusions: The findings support the need for—and provide a platform for—greater collaboration between obesity and eating disorder researchers in the development of integrated prevention and health promotion programs. Level of evidence: Level III.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)929–938
Number of pages10
JournalEating and Weight Disorders
Issue number4
Early online date16 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • eating disorders
  • obesity
  • prevention
  • health promotion

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