Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders

Authored by: Kristen Harrison

The Routledge International Handbook of Children, Adolescents and Media

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415783682
eBook ISBN: 9780203366981
Adobe ISBN: 9781134060559


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Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are eating disorders characterized by thin-ideal internalization (embracing the thin body ideal as one’s own), a strong drive for thinness, and an intense fear of fatness (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Lifetime prevalence estimates in the United States for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are 0.9 percent and 1.5 percent among women, and 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent among men (Hudson et al., 2007), with an additional 4.4 percent overall for “eating disorders not otherwise specified” (EDNOS) (Lewinsohn, 2001). Far more young people—17 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007)—are obese, so why should we be concerned about cultural influences on child body image and disordered eating? The reason is that the costs of poor body image and disordered eating are exceptionally high, and disordered eating may have permanent developmental consequences. In one study, the death rate of anorexia was 15.6 percent over 21 years (Zipfel et al., 2000). Other complications include depression, anxiety disorders, attempted suicide, chronic pain, infectious diseases, insomnia, cardiovascular and neurological problems (Johnson et al., 2002), strained interpersonal relationships (Holt and Espelage, 2002), and depleted bone density and delayed menarche (Nicholls, 2004). Disordered eating can also lead to obesity; in longitudinal research, normal-weight children who used unhealthful weight-loss tactics increased their risk of both disordered eating and obesity in adolescence (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2006).

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