Dieting & Body Image in Children: Influence of TV

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Four studies in the journal Pediatrics looked at children and their relationship to food. The reports were released amidst growing concern about the girth of America’s kids. Experts estimate that nearly one quarter of children in this nation are overweight, with those figures swelling each year. Anorexia is also a growing problem among girls and more research is pointing to boys worrying about body image too.

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Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston questioned over 12,000 children, ages 9 to 14, in 1996 and followed up with more questions the next year. Led by Alison E. Field, researchers found that in the first year 9 percent of the girls and 4 percent of the boys had extreme weight concerns, such as worries over gaining 2 pounds.

The next year, an additional 6 percent of girls and 2 percent of boys became highly weight-conscious. Constant dieting was uncommon in 1996 – reported initially by 2 percent of the girls and 1 percent of boys – but the numbers doubled in 1997.

The study also found that boys and girls who made a lot of effort to look like media figures were more likely to worry about their weight and be prone to chronic dieting. The responses also suggested that parents who were dieters or valued leanness strongly influenced their children.

Television and Healthy Diet

One solution might be turning off the television during meals, suggests a third study, from the School of Nutrition, Science and Policy at Tufts University. It found that children whose families routinely watched TV at mealtime ate more salty snack foods and sodas, and fewer fruits and vegetables than those who turned the televisions off.

Participants included 91 Washington, D.C.-area families with children age 10 on average. The findings suggest that television ads and shows offer an unrealistic view of what constitutes a normal diet, though other factors such as parents’ education level also may play a role, said researchers.

SOURCE: Pediatrics Journal, 2001

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