Awareness of, Degree of Knowledge About, and Attitudes Toward the Body Image Concerns and Eating Practices of Middle-school Aged Girls: A Survey of School Social Workers

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Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
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eating disorders
school social work practice
middle-school aged girls
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Social Work
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In response to the increased incidence of eating disorders, along with the increased prevalence of body image concerns and unhealthy eating practices among younger and younger females, more attention has been given to eating disorder prevention programming over the past two decades. However, the field of eating disorder prevention is in its formative years and is in need of more empirical study. This study utilized a biopsychosociocultural framework to critically review contemporary literature on the incidence of eating disorders and the prevalence of the body image concerns and eating practices of middle school aged girls. Additionally, a thorough review of the literature on school-based eating disorder prevention programming revealed that prevention programming overlooks the role of school social workers in these prevention efforts. The overall purpose of this study was to explore the awareness, knowledge, and attitudes of school social workers towards the body image concerns and eating practices of middle-school aged girls. Additionally this study sought to examine the effect of training in eating disorder prevention, experience working with middle-school aged girls with body image concerns and/or unhealthy eating practices on the degree of awareness, knowledge, and informed attitudes school social workers have towards this population. This is the first known exploratory study of school social workers in relation to their possible role in the prevention of eating disorders among middle-school aged girls. Non-probability sampling was utilized to obtain a sample size (N) of 112. Participant recruitment occurred through the School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA). Unfortunately, the ratio of participants who had training and experience in the prevention of eating disorders with middle-school aged girls was low compared to the participants who did not have training and experience. While the results of this study did not yield empirical evidence in support of the research hypotheses, it was a worthwhile endeavor nonetheless. The data supports that even without additional training and/or experience, school social workers are relatively well informed regarding the body image concerns and eating practices of middle-school aged girls. This finding is quite encouraging in regards to eating disorder prevention efforts and supports the notion that school social workers are inherently well prepared to intervene with this population.

Jeffrey Applegate, PhD
Ram Cnaan, PhD
Andrea Carter, PsyD
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