Media, Body Image, and Unhealthy Eating

Families, Food and Fitness November 18, 2009 Print Friendly and PDF

Children are bombarded with TV, magazine, movie, and Internet messages convincing them that outward appearance is what matters most. Young girls begin to compare their bodies with starving models in air-brushed images. Boys feel as if they should have the bodies of steroid-pumping wrestlers or actors. These unrealistic images are not limited to commercial breaks. They’re hidden inside the TV programs, movies, and video games. Advertisers convince kids that they have flaws that can only be fixed by purchasing their products. Ads for miracle weight-loss products follow those for high-calorie junk food. It’s no wonder that youth are growing up heavier than ever before with feelings of low self-worth and record levels of eating disorders.

girls on scale eating

Parents can help their children by limiting the amount of screen time. TVs, video games, and computers should be in the family area of the home, not in the bedrooms. Monitor TV programs, video games, magazines, and Web sites to get a sense of the messages your child sees.

Talk with your children about media content. When they’re old enough, help them to analyze media messages to see if they can identify how unrealistic many of the images are and how marketers try to manipulate us. You may have a good laugh as you discover together how silly ads are when they imply products will make you successful, happy, fulfilled, popular, and rich.

Experts recommend that you focus on healthy eating and physical activity instead of body size and shape. Parents can either reinforce or counter the media messages youth get. A negative comment about your child’s or someone else’s weight can make a long-lasting impression. On the other hand, comments showing you value integrity, creativity, compassion, and good works can go a long way toward forming your child’s beliefs. Research shows that efforts focused on weight control are linked to increased risk for eating disorders and becoming overweight years later. Remember that we’re all born to have different body shapes and sizes. Teach your children that who they are and what they do matters more than how they look and what they own.