BACKGROUND: Whether and to what extent young adults are aware of the adverse impact of eating disorder features (EDF) on psychosocial functioning is unclear, although such awareness may affect the experience and behavior of sufferers. The aim of the current study was to examine young adults' perceptions of psychosocial impairment associated with EDF, and the potential effect on these perceptions of an eating disorders "mental health literacy" (ED-MHL) intervention.
METHODS: Undergraduate students (male: n = 35; female: n = 141) completed self-report questionnaires prior to, immediately following, and 3 months after completion of a 3-h ED-MHL intervention. Perceived psychosocial impairment associated with EDF-binge eating, purging, extreme dietary restriction, overvaluation of weight/shape, and excessive exercise-was assessed at each time point.
RESULTS: At all 3 time points, EDF were considered to have a 'slightly negative' to 'very negative' impact on psychosocial functioning. Prior to the intervention, binge eating, purging and extreme dietary restriction were generally considered to have a greater negative impact than excessive exercise and overvaluation of weight/shape. Three months after the ED-MHL intervention, participants reported greater perceived impairment associated with excessive exercise and overvaluation; while perceptions of psychosocial impairment associated with binge eating, purging and dietary restriction remained largely unchanged. Females perceived greater impairment associated with EDF than males did immediately after the intervention, but not at the 3-month follow-up.
CONCLUSIONS: The adverse effects on psychosocial functioning of binge eating, purging and extreme dietary restriction appear to be readily recognized by young people. Awareness of the adverse effects of excessive exercise and overvaluation may be poorer, but amenable to improvement by means of a relatively simple intervention. These features may warrant particular attention in health promotion programs.
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- Eating disorder features
- Psychosocial functioning
- Mental health literacy