New research lab tackling body image issues

Flinders University is now home to a new health and wellbeing research initiative to help young Australians and their parents tackle body image issues.

The Embrace Impact Lab will support a national campaign led by 2023 Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt.

Led by body image researcher Associate Professor Ivanka Prichard at Flinders University, the lab is the new research arm of The Embrace Collective, a national charity on a mission to reach more than one million Australian children with their message to ‘embrace every body’ through educational activities and events in schools, sports clubs and the wider community.

Through The Embrace Kids Classroom Program and other initiatives, the charity disseminates a range of evidence-based, age-appropriate programs to get in early and teach the message of body appreciation to young people, while also educating the parents, educators and professionals around them.

The establishment of the research lab at Flinders University follows the Albanese government’s announcement of a $6.2 million package for The Embrace Collective to develop and implement nine key programs in 2023-2024 and includes funding for an independent evaluation of these programs to be undertaken by the new lab.

The lab will foster collaboration between multidisciplinary experts that can make an impact on body image policy, health and wellbeing for all ages by enabling the rapid translation of evidence into practice and fill critical research gaps.

The roll-out of the Embrace Kids Classroom Program and the evaluation of its effectiveness will be supported by three South Australian based charities.

Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation, Chris McDermott’s Little Heroes Foundation and leading medical charity Flinders Foundation will work with the Embrace Collective and the university on different aspects of the project.

An ‘exciting step forward’

Ms Prichard says the partnership will enable her and other research collaborators to evaluate and help improve the impact of the tools being developed by The Embrace Collective to tackle body image issues.

“I’ve worked in body image research for the last 20 years and this partnership is a really exciting step forward in the way that researchers can work with organisations and the community to ensure that the latest research findings translate into real world impact,” she says.

“It also means that the lab will be able to target key issues for society as they come up and provide the most up-to-date evidence back to The Embrace Collective to inform the policy changes they advocate for.”

Reaching the masses

2023 Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt says The Embrace Impact Lab will not only help fast-track this much-needed research but also turn it into practical, scalable programs and resources so it can reach as many people as possible.

“For decades, researchers around the world have been working tirelessly to stem the tide of body image issues and eating disorders. That tide became a tsunami during the Covid-19 pandemic when rates of body image distress and eating disorders increased dramatically, so it’s never been more urgent to translate this research into action and get the help to those who need it,” she says.

“There’s so much great research that has been done in the body image space, but too much of it sits on a shelf gathering dust… we need to get these incredible insights and solutions out there!”