Boys feel pressure too

Issue date: 02 May 2006

UWE logo A new study from the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England published today says teenage boys are at risk of developing body dissatisfaction and eating disorders as a result of perceived peer pressure and media images – the key factors known to affect adolescent girls.

Perceived pressure from peers and the media has long been seen as one of the key risk factors in the development of body dissatisfaction and eating dysfunction amongst adolescent girls, however this new research has now found that this is also a major risk factor amongst teenage boys.

The study, which was carried out by Emma Halliwell of the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England, and Martin Harvey from the University of Sussex, is published today, Tuesday 2 May 2006, in the British Journal of Health Psychology.
Involving 507 adolescents aged 11-16 years, the research assessed perceived pressure from parents, siblings, friends and the media to be thin, internalisation, peer comparison, body satisfaction, eating behaviour, and perceived weight.

While substantial gender differences were found, for both boys and girls perceived pressure to lose weight was associated with eating behaviours through social comparison, internalisation, and body dissatisfaction. Perceived weight, rather than self-reports of actual weight, was also found to be a vulnerability factor.
Previous research has found that while most young women aim to look better than their peers, young men do not want to stand out as looking different. In line with this, the study found that it was only among boys who perceived themselves as overweight that social comparisons were significantly associated with body dissatisfaction.

Dr Halliwell said, “The consequences of social comparisons, particularly for boys, depend on one's perceived weight. Understanding appearance goals and the way social comparisons serve these goals could be used to decrease the impact of social comparisons on vulnerable adolescents, for example, by suggesting appropriate comparison targets to protect against body dissatisfaction”.

She continued, “As these attitudes and behaviours are already developed by early adolescence, prevention programmes should be targeted at pre-adolescents, before internalisation and body-image concerns become established.”


Editors notes:

A copy of the study is available from the press office.

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