Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 11 Issue 4 (July/August 2001), Pages 243-327

Understanding body image disturbance in the promotion of mental health: a discourse analytic study (pages 305-317)


Health care interventions in the area of body image disturbance and eating disorders largely involve individual treatment approaches, while prevention and health promotion are relatively underexplored. A review of health promotion activities in the area of body image in Australia revealed three programmes, the most extensive and longest standing having been established in 1992. The aims of this programme are to reduce body image dissatisfaction and inappropriate eating behaviour, especially among women. Because health promotion is concerned with the social aspects of health, it was hypothesized by the authors that a social understanding of body image and eating disorders might be advanced in a health promotion setting and reflected in the approach to practice. In order to examine approaches to body image in health promotion, 10 health professionals responsible for the design and management of this programme participated in a series of semi‐structured interviews between 1997 and 2000. Three discursive themes were evident in health workers' explanations of body image problems: (1) cognitive‐behavioural themes; (2) gender themes; and (3) socio‐cultural themes. While body image problems were constructed as psychological problems that are particularly experienced by women, their origins were largely conceived to be socio‐cultural. The implications of these constructions are critically discussed in terms of the approach to health promotion used in this programme. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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