She has also observed popular social media trends and platforms that have harmful consequences.
This includes platforms such as Tik-Tok using an algorithm that feeds For You pages with more of its own preferred content – which may have detrimental effects on viewers – rather than a user’s preferred choices.
“The isolation of people during the COVID era certainly accelerated the impact of social media – and that influence is not going away, so we must learn how to deal with it,” says Associate Professor Prichard. “We have also started to test social media content that may make people feel better, so we can encourage them to follow that rather than social media content that we know can be harmful for them.
“Ultimately, our work must help educate people on how various social media platforms work – including an understanding of how algorithms and privacy filters work - and how to use social media feeds more wisely, to accept positive images and deny access to negative influences. It’s too easy at the moment for people to be negatively affected, and that can be changed.”
The sum of Associate Professor Prichard’s research has helped Flinders University become the home of the Embrace Impact Lab, a new health and wellbeing research initiative to help young Australians and their parents tackle body image issues, supporting a national campaign led by 2023 Australian of the Year, Taryn Brumfitt.
The lab represents the research arm of The Embrace Collective, a national charity led by Ms Brumfitt and Dr Zali Yager that aims to promote positive body image messages to more than one million Australian children through educational activities and events in schools, sports clubs and the wider community.
It also links into the Federal Government’s $6.2 million package for The Embrace Collective to develop and implement nine key programs in 2023- 2024, with the Embrace Impact Lab then providing independent evaluation of these programs.
This includes the Embrace Kids Classroom Program and Embrace Kids film, providing evidence-based, age-appropriate tools to help school teachers promote a positive message of body appreciation to young people, while also educating parents and educators about changed behaviours and improved ways that we talk about bodies.
The roll-out of the Embrace Kids Classroom Program and evaluation of its effectiveness will be supported by South Australian-based charities Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation, which is supporting a PhD position, Chris McDermott’s Little Heroes Foundation, supporting work in schools, and Flinders Foundation, which is funding researchers to evaluate the program.
“The Embrace Impact Lab provides the key that can turn 20 years of body image research into translatable programs that will have a positive effect on people,” says Associate Professor Prichard. “Now that we have been able to identify specific body image problems through our research, the Lab will also be aiming to produce further resources so that we can overcome them.”