Developmental Considerations of Media Exposure Risk for Eating Disorders

Rebecca Carr and Rebecka Peebles

in The Oxford Handbook of Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders: Developmental Perspectives

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199744459
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Developmental Considerations of Media Exposure Risk for Eating Disorders

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The number of eating disorder cases reported is on the rise, which is causing concern in the medical and scientific communities. The data show that many cases of eating disorders develop during adolescence. Consequently, extensive research directed at finding a developmental trigger for eating disorders has been initiated. The influence of mass media (i.e., television, radio, movies, magazines, the Internet, etc.) on this issue is consistently referenced in the literature as a possible mechanism, specifically because the mass media has been shown to be a powerful influence on adolescent behavior. As the number of media outlets increase, presumably this influence will grow stronger. To quantify the role of mass media with respect to this issue, a systematic literature review was conducted to assess media influence on eating behaviors and eating disorder pathology, as well as its influence on perceived “body satisfaction.” Results show that, although the media cannot be blamed for all eating disorder causation, it does play a significant role in the propagation of an ideal body type for many adolescents. Images of ultra-thin models have been correlated to heightened body dissatisfaction and an increase in unsafe dieting behaviors. Conversely, the increased presence of commercials for junk food has been correlated to more snacking, subsequently causing weight gain, thus contributing to the rise of obesity in the United States. It can be concluded from this study that, whereas the media has been found to contribute to the rise in childhood obesity as well as eating disorders, it can also be a useful tool in spreading positive health information. More research is needed to identify the best approaches for the media to provide positive messages in this regard. Further recommended research includes the media influence on adolescent males, since they are a population seldom included in present studies and the literature.

Keywords: Eating disorders; development; adolescence; media; social factors

Article.  8744 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Clinical Psychology ; Developmental Psychology

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