Research finds TV is related to body image

New research by Newcastle University, in collaboration with Durham University, has found that television has a direct link to female body issues and perceptions of body ideals.

For the first time experts have been able to link exposure to TV with perceptions of female body ideals.

The research took place in Nicaragua, Central America on the remote Mosquito Coast, in two villages of the Pearl Lagoon Basin. The inhabitants had different access to electricity and TV and shared similar cultural constraints.

The study involved more than 150 men and women including people from an urban area, a village with television access, and a village with little television access.

Villagers with the least media access preferred curvier women, while those living in urban areas preferred thinner female bodies.

This study provides evidence of how the thin ideal promoted by the media creates body image dissatisfaction which can have implications for women’s mental health and the development of eating disorders in the UK.

Dr. Martin Tovee, a reader in visual cognition at Newcastle University’s Institute of Neuroscience, who co-led the research said: “Our study shows that television is having a significant impact on what people think is the ideal woman’s body.

“Nicaragua provides a unique opportunity to study media effects as we were able to minimise variance in potential confounding factors and focus on the influence of visual media.

“Overall, these results strongly implicate television access in establishing risk factors for body image dissatisfaction.”

The participants were tested individually and those with access to TV reported watching soap operas, imported US films and music videos.

Dr. Lynda Boothroyd, a lecturer in psychology at Durham University, who also co-led the study, said, “Internalisation of a thin ideal is a well-established risk factor for body dissatisfaction and eating disorders in the West.

“Our data strongly suggests that access to televisual media is itself a risk factor for holding thin body ideals, at least for female body shape, in a population who are only just gaining access to television.

“Television is having a significant impact on what people think is the ideal woman’s body.”

“For now, most people in the rural sample still hold body ideals within the healthy range.

“However, the fact body shape ideals may mediate a link between television access and weight loss attempts in this population suggests we could potentially see the same kind of patterns play out here in the long-term as in the West.”

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