Fitness Magazines and Eating Disorders: Is There a Relationship?

Many advertisements, especially in the clothing and makeup industries, portray beautiful, thin, models with perfect bodies and flawless features that seem to establish the perfect, ideal appearance in the eyes of females. Many women seem to observe advertisements as a representation of the ultimate image they should aspire to obtain. Viewers, especially young females, already insecure about their figures, might be harmfully impacted by the standard of beauty and appearance set by the ever-encompassing advertising industry.

A study dicussed in “Fitness Magazines and Eating Disorders: Is There a Relationship?,” reflects the growing concern of the possible harmful effects of advertising. Led by Steven R. Thomsen, associate professor of communications at BYU, and published in the June 2001 issue of the American Journal of Health Education, the study investigated the impact of the “ideal” image constantly promoted in magazines on young women. As Thomsen’s own daughter suffered from eating disorder behaviors, he strongly “believe[s] women’s health and fitness magazines may be an important sociocultural influence in the development or perpetuating of eating disorder attitudes.”

Promoting flawless looks as an ideal goal for women

Promoting flawless looks as an ideal goal for women

Investigating this issue, he found that frequent readers of women’s health and fitness magazines were more prone to participating in weight control practices and unhealthy behaviors including bulimia and anorexia nervosa. Among the nearly five hundred surveyed high school girls, Thomsen and his researches discovered abundant evidence of unhealthy weight control practices including the use of laxatives and appetite control pills for weight loss, self-induced vomiting, and restrictions of 1,200 or less daily calories.

  • Almost 80 percent of the girls who made themselves vomit were frequent readers of health and fitness magazines
  • Of those who used appetite suppressants or weight-control pills, about 73 percent were frequent readers of these magazines
  • About 60 percent of the girls who had used laxatives in the past year were also frequent readers of these magazines
  • Among frequent readers, those who restricted their calories to under 1,200 a day outnumbered nearly two to one those who did not

This shockingly discovered correlation between magazine consumption and harmful behaviors and eating habits among women presents an overwhelming realization of powerful influence of advertising. Although not offering an absolute cause and effect relationship, the possibility of advertising possessing power over one’s mind and body is deeply concerning and continues to raise awareness towards the health and well being of women.

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