Submission note: Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Clinical Psychology [to the] School of Psychological Science, Faculty of Science, Technology and Engineering, La Trobe University, Bundoora.
Although Bulimia Nervosa (bulimia) is a debilitating eating disorder, many individuals with bulimia do not seek appropriate treatment. This is in part due to perceived stigma and lack of knowledge about treatments. Adolescence is a crucial time to intervene as the onset of bulimia is typically in late adolescence and beliefs formed in adolescence typically persist into adulthood. The aims of research presented in this thesis were to elucidate the types and prevalence of stigmatising beliefs and the level of knowledge adolescents have about bulimia, as well as to identify individual characteristics related to the knowledge and attitudes they hold. Further aims were to identify health promotion messages that are most likely to be persuasive in changing negative attitudes about bulimia and individual differences that are related to ratings of message persuasiveness. Male and female Victorian High School students (N = 460) completed a questionnaire designed to evaluate knowledge and beliefs about bulimia, and to provide feedback about the persuasiveness of nine brief health promotion messages to counteract negative beliefs. Principal Components Analysis indicated that adolescents endorsed a number of stigmatising beliefs that were entitled ‘Blame and Vanity’, ‘Degree of Severity’, ‘Perception of Desirability’ and ‘Trust and Social Distancing’. There was evidence of low levels of knowledge regarding appropriate treatment of bulimia. Messages that emphasised that bulimia is a serious mental illness and directly countered negative beliefs (such as that the disorder is caused by vanity or attention seeking), were rated as most convincing and likely to change attitudes. The identified negative attitudes towards people with bulimia and low knowledge in regard to appropriate treatment may be potent contributors to inadequate help seeking in adolescents with bulimia. The messages identified as most likely to be effective in changing attitudes could contribute to health promotion interventions in this field.
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