Body image, dieting and disordered eating and activity practices among teacher trainees: implications for school-based health education and obesity prevention programs

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The aim was to investigate and compare body image, body dissatisfaction, dieting, disordered eating, exercise and eating disorders among trainee health education/physical education (H&PE) and non-H&PE teachers. Participants were 502 trainee teachers randomly selected from class groups at three Australian universities who completed the questionnaire. H&PE males and females had significantly poorer body image and higher levels of body dissatisfaction, dieting and disordered eating behaviors than non-H&PE participants. H&PE teachers were more likely to over-exercise and have exercise disorders, but very few self-identified problems with objectively assessed excessive exercise behaviors. Lifetime prevalence of eating disorders was 12.5% in H&PE males, 0% in non-H&PE males, 7.7% in H&PE females and 6% in non-H&PE females. Few participants had received any past or current treatment. Of particular concern is the likelihood of the teachers' inappropriate and dangerous attitudes and behaviors being intentionally or unintentionally conveyed to their school students. Those planning school health education, nutrition education and school-based obesity prevention programs should provide suitable training for the teachers involved. Screening and treatment services among teachers may also be helpful in order to detect, treat and educate young teachers about body image, dieting, disordered eating and physical activity practices.

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