Written by Eugene Luo
Edited by Farah
This writer is of the opinion that anorexia is really, really, bad for you, and that mass media is partially contributing to this “disease” (I am hesitant to use this word – is it just me, or is there something wrong when we start to classify anorexia with cancer or AIDS?). A recent study conducted by Van den Berg, Neumark-Sztainer, Hannan, and Haines of the University of Minnesota suggests a strong relationship between reading dieting articles in magazines and unhealthy weight-loss/control behaviors.
Via a longitudinal study, in which 2516 American adolescents of various ethnic groups in middle and high school completed the study, participants were measured in 1998-1999 (Time 1) on body-mass index (BMI), height and weight. They were also surveyed on their attitude towards their body weight), frequency of reading magazine articles on dieting and weight loss, weight-loss/control behaviors (classified as “healthy”, e.g. exercising, “unhealthy”, e.g. using of food substitutes, and “extreme”, e.g. self-induced vomiting), depression, and self-esteem. They were then surveyed again in 2003-2004 (Time 2), with some modifications from the previous survey.
Results are intriguing. While girls are significantly more likely than boys to read articles on dieting and weight loss, it appears that the Caucasian and Asian adolescents were more likely to be frequent readers of such articles than girls from other ethnic groups. Also, girls in the lowest socioeconomic strata were less likely to read them. This suggests the cultural specificity of desired body images, assuming of course that reading of such articles reflect a desire to “look like that”.
Also, after controlling for variables such as demographics and BMI at Time 1, there is a positive correlation between frequency of reading such articles and the type of weight-loss/control behaviors. So, the more one reads such articles, the more likely one engages in unhealthy (even extreme) weight-loss/control behaviors.
We did not find support in either female or male adolescents for the influence of time 1 magazine reading on time 2 self-esteem, depressive symptoms, or body dissatisfaction after adjustment for covariates and baseline levels of the outcomes (e35)
While there is a positive relationship between article-reading and weight-loss/control behaviours, it appears that reading of such articles do not affect one’s psychological attributes adversely. This seems counterintuitive: if you do not feel inadequate after reading such articles, why is there a need to engage in such behaviors? There appears to be dissociation between the behaviour and the cognition of the reader!
Methodological weaknesses apart (e.g. high attrition rate: 4746 participants were originally included at Time 1, no physical measurements of participants, non-inclusion of other objective measures, such as availability of magazines in participants’ homes), the relationship between the two variables should be a cause of concern for parents and guardians. As Van den Berg states, it is important for parents to educate their children of the messages behind media and advertising.
Me? I’m sticking to Wikipedia, thank you very much.
van den Berg, P., ,Neumark-Sztainer, D., Hannan, P.J., & Haines, J. (2007). Is dieting advice from magazines helpful or harmful? Five-year associations with weight-control behaviors and psychological outcomes in adolescents. Pediatrics, 119, 30-37.
Associated Press. (2007). Girls who read diet articles show later signs of eating disorders, study suggests. Retrieved 5 January, 2007, from