Minister Greg Hunt has released the outcomes of the Million Minds Mission Funding, dedicating $5 million to prevention and early intervention of eating disorders. The grant supports teams of researchers to undertake collaborative, patient-focused research that is transformative, scalable and demonstrates the greatest improvement on health outcomes and translation into policy and/or practice.

"Eating disorders are extremely complex illnesses," Health Minister Greg Hunt said. "These projects have the potential to save and protect the lives of patients with this disease."

A number of research teams, including one at Victoria University has received $1.3 million in order to develop innovative digital resources for the prevention and early intervention of eating disorders among young adults. They will join researchers from Deakin, Melbourne, La Trobe, and Swinburne Universities, led by Associate Professor Matt Fuller-Tyszkiewicz at Deakin University.

Dr Sian McLean, a research fellow in the Institute for Health and Sport at VU will co-lead the development of an app to engage hard-to-reach populations of young people in an early intervention program for eating disorders.

The researchers will use data to deliver intervention modules, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and media literacy (prevalence of photo-shopping) in a manner that responds directly to the concerns that are considered most prominent to adolescents at that time. The app will be trialed across Australia in 2020.

Around one million Australians live with an eating disorder, however experts agree that early interventions can have a positive impact on recovery rates. Dr McLean said ”This is the first time in the world that a young person experiencing an eating disorder will receive the support that they need to address the specific risk factor that is most problematic to them, in real-time, wherever they are“.

Associate Professor Zali Yager and Professor Alex Parker will co-lead end-user engagement research in order to gather young people’s views about how they would like such an app to look and feel, and to ensure that findings are shared with participants, health professionals, and members of the community to shape impact policy and practice. In the coming weeks, the team will be seeking young people (aged over 18 years), and health professionals to join a Research Advisory Group and contribute to the project.

“Young people hold the key insights that we need to create engaging resources and programs that can be promoted through social media. We want to combine these insights with the evidence-base in order to develop some really innovative resources that directly meet their needs”, said VU’s Associate Professor Zali Yager.

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