Reading celebrity gossip mags can encourage eating disorders

Issue date: 16 June 2010


Centre for Appearance Research Findings to be presented at 4th Appearance Matters conference
22-23 June, Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road, Bristol, UK

Teenagers who read gossip magazines are more likely to engage in eating disorder behaviours, according to new research being presented at the Appearance Matters conference in Bristol. The two-day conference is organised by the Centre for Appearance Research from the University of the West of England.

A study conducted by Dr James White of Cardiff University and Dr Emma Halliwell from UWE took place over six months, and involved 546 eleven to sixteen year-old children from South Wales. 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. 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.”

Appearance Matters 4 is a two-day conference highlighting current research and good practice around appearance-related issues including adolescent body image, men's body image, visible difference, surgery, ethics, information provision, education, the media, ethnicity, resilience, identity, weight, provision of care and psychosocial interventions.

Keynote speakers include Professor Alex Clarke, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Royal Free Hospital London, and Professor Lina Ricciardelli from Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.

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