Researchers from Harvard Medical School’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine examined the link between media consumption and eating disorders among adolescent girls in Fiji.
What they found was surprising. The study’s subjects did not even need to have a television at home to see raised risk levels of eating disorder symptoms.
In fact, by far the biggest factor for eating disorders was how many of a subject’s friends and schoolmates had access to TV. By contrast, researchers found that direct forms of exposure, like personal or parental viewing, did not have an independent impact, when factors like urban location, body shape and other influences were taken into account.
It appeared that changing attitudes within a group that had been exposed to television were a more powerful factor than actually watching the programs themselves. In fact, higher peer media exposure were linked to a 60 percent increase in a girl’s odds of having a high level of eating disorder symptoms, independently of her own viewing.
Lead author Anne Becker, vice chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, said this was the first study to attempt to quantify the role of social networks in spreading the negative consequences of media consumption on eating disorders.
“Our findings suggest that social network exposure is not just a minor influence on eating pathology here, but rather, IS the exposure of concern,” she said.
“If you are a parent and you are concerned about limiting cultural exposure, it simply isn’t going to be enough to switch off the TV. If you are going to think about interventions, it would have to be at a community or peer-based level.”
Becker hopes the paper will encourage debate about responsible programming and the regulation of media content to prevent children from secondhand exposure.
“Up until now, it has been very difficult to get people who produce media as entertainment to come to the table and think about how they might ensure that their products are not harmful to children,” she said.
To read more got to Science Blog article