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Eating disorders and gossip magazine link

21 June 2010

Silhouette of woman veiwing herself as larger in the mirror

Teenagers who read gossip magazines are more likely to engage in eating disorder behaviours, according to new research from the School of Medicine.

Conducted by Dr James White from the Department of Primary Care & Public Health, the study took place over six months, and involved 546 eleven to sixteen year old children from South Wales. The research was carried out in collaboration with Dr Emma Halliwell from the University of the West of England.

Adolescents were asked to record changes in their behaviours that are common to eating disorders, such as binge eating, self-induced vomiting and dieting. They were also asked how often they view different types of television programmes (soaps, music videos, sports, drama series, reality TV) and magazines (women’s fashion, health and fitness, men’s magazines, gossip magazines).

After six months, the television and magazine viewing habits of teenagers who had increased their use of eating disorder behaviours were compared to those whose eating had remained normal. Recognised risk factors for eating disorders such as age, gender, body mass index and perceived pressure from the media to lose weight were taken into account during analysis.

The study’s results indicated that the one of the strongest risk factors for significant increases in eating disorder behaviours was how often teenage boys and girls read gossip magazines. Indeed, reading gossip magazines remained a significant risk factor after taking into account teenagers’ awareness of pressure from the media to lose weight. The frequency of viewing other television and magazine genres did not have a significant effect.

Dr White said, "This study suggests that there should be a greater awareness of the potential impact that exposure to the kind of images of celebrities and models in gossip magazines can have on adolescents’ eating habits. This is one of the first studies to investigate such a wide and varied group of different television and magazine genres, but it suggests that exposure to gossip magazines increases the risk in adolescent boys and girls of using unhealthy eating behaviours, without their awareness of being influenced."

Dr James White will be presenting his findings at the 4th Appearance Matters conference on 22 and 23 June, in Bristol.

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School of Medicine