Anti-obesity public health messages and risk factors for disordered eating: a systematic review

Claire Bristow, Capella Meurer, Janette Simmonds, Tristan Snell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


In response to the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity, public health efforts to curb these conditions have been delivered in abundance. There is concern however that the messages used to target these conditions may be increasing risk factors for disordered eating. Therefore, we sought to systematically review the literature on the effects of anti-obesity public health messages on risk factors for disordered eating. Seven electronic databases were searched for articles meeting the inclusion criteria, resulting in the inclusion of 12 studies of various methodologies that measured one or more risk factors for disordered eating following exposure to public health messages. Few studies specifically and accurately measured disordered eating behaviours. Most studies found that messages were stigmatizing towards persons who are overweight/obese, and exacerbate thin ideals and drive for thinness. Interestingly, the same was not found for measures of body dissatisfaction. Messages promoting smaller meals were also thought to be potential triggers for disordered eating. Whilst the studies included in this review offered both quantitative and qualitative insights into how public health messages may have adverse effects on eating behaviours, there was a consistent lack of valid reporting measures and clear classification of outcomes overall. Hence, future research is recommended using valid reporting tools such as validated questionnaires, as well as prolonged exposure to the intervention condition to determine longer-term impact.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdaaa018
Pages (from-to)1551-1569
Number of pages19
JournalHealth Promotion International
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • Eating and feeding disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Obesity
  • Overweight
  • Public health

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