What is Media Smart?

Media Smart is an evidence-based 8-lesson media literacy program suitable for girls and boys in late primary school or early high school. Topics covered include techniques used by the media to manipulate images (e.g., airbrushing), ideas for how to analyse and challenge media messages, tips for handling pressure placed on young people and planning for how to move through adolescence and beyond as a skilful and confident person. Media Smart targets media internalization which refers to when people believe they must look like the ideal images presented in the media. The program is suitable to be taught in a range of classes including English, Study of Society, Home Economics, Physical Education, Pastoral Care and Home Group.

Why do we need eating disorder prevention? 

  • Body image was ranked the number 1 concern of both girls and boys aged 11-24 in recent large Australian surveys
  • Current estimates shows the incidence of body dissatisfaction in Australian adolescents is at least 75% for girls and 50% for boys
  • Of the Australian adolescents in a healthy weight range, approximately 50% of girls and 33% of boys believe they are overweight
  • The prevalence of disordered eating behaviours in Australian adolescent girls jumped from 10% in 2000 to 18% in 2006. This means that approximately 1 in 5 girls try to lose weight through dangerous behaviours like not eating for 2 days, taking laxatives, vomiting and smoking

What can Media Smart do for young people?

We evaluated Media Smart in one of the largest and longest eating disorder prevention studies that has ever been conducted around the world. This involved 24 classes of Year 8 students (540 people) where half the classes received the program and the other half did not. Students completed questionnaires of eating disorder risk factors on 4 occasions:

  • Before the program started
  • After the program finished
  • 6-months after the program finished
  • 2.5-years after the program finished

We found that those who received the program, on average had significantly lower scores on 6 of the 9 eating disorder risk factors measured across the post-program and follow-up periods.
As can be seen in the figure below, early adolescence is usually a time when scores on eating disorder risk factors increase (see control group). It can be seen that Media Smart participants experienced a drop in scores as a result of the program and stayed well below control participants over the duration of the study.

Do students like Media Smart?

Yes, students' reaction to Media Smart was very positive. Approximately 98% of both girls and boys rated the program as being valuable and enjoyable. Many very positive comments were recorded on feedback sheets including:

"I feel better about myself"
"I used to get upset all the time because I couldn't look perfect"
"I never knew how much the media changed the pictures before they went into magazines"
"my friendships grew"


How does Media Smart compare to other programs?

Our findings were extremely positive compared to other prevention research. Many programs have found no benefit whatsoever, and it has even been suggested that some have caused harm. For those who do find benefit at post-program, often these benefits have disappeared by 6- or 12-month follow-up. Many researchers now do prevention work with females-only, above the age of 15 (often university students), who already show high body dissatisfaction and early signs of disordered eating as there is more statistical scope to achieve impressive findings with these types of audiences.
Our research shows however that it is possible to achieve a lasting benefit with mixed gender, younger audiences who don’t already have high body dissatisfaction.


What about obesity?

There is a strong concern about obesity in our society currently. Recent research has suggested there are some risk factors that apply to both eating disorders and obesity. Thus we conducted the Prevention Across the Spectrum trial where we looked at whether Media Smart and 2 other programs could reduce risk factors for both eating disorders and obesity in 1,316 Year 7 and 8 girls and boys. Media Smart was the superior program showing benefits on a range of risk factors including important obesity risk factors such as physical activity and screen time. In addition, Media Smart girls had half the risk of control girls of developing clinical concerns about their body shape and weight at 12-month follow-up. This is an extremely encouraging finding given this is regarded as the most important eating disorder risk factor, and as a key therapy target in people with eating disorders. This finding can be seen in the below figure.