Date of Conferral
Eating disorders are associated with high mortality rates. Most eating disorder prevention research is conducted within the fields of psychology and psychiatry, not in public health. This gap in public health research can lead to insufficient attention to the root causes of eating disorders and minimal upstream prevention efforts. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to identify public health leaders' perceptions of and attitudes concerning eating disorders as a public health issue. Objectification theory was used to describe how societal expectations have created an environment in which people's self-worth is based on their outward physical appearance. Ecological theory was used to identify environmental factors that influence the development of eating disorders. Public health leaders at local public health departments throughout California were invited to participate in the study, as they hold significant public health positions in the state. Data were collected using open-ended questions. Results were coded and analyzed via thematic analysis. NVivo 11 software was used for data management. Theoretical saturation was reached after 6 interviews when the information was redundant and no new themes were revealed. Emerged themes included observations from the participants that eating disorders are not considered a public health issue. The participants did not view eating disorders as a significant problem and they noted that they do not monitor the rates of these illnesses. They expressed interest in exploring the public health role in eating disorder prevention. Public health educators, researchers, and leaders can use these results to assess the burden of eating disorders and recognize ways to address this health threat at the macro level. In doing so, they will affect positive social change.