- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

Research has shown that children start preferring lean bodies to fat ones early in life.
These preferences are underscored by watching television, says one researcher, who also concludes that television viewing even may lead to the development of eating disorders in young people.
"The most straightforward explanation for this finding is that television viewing increases children's exposure to dieting images, ideas and behaviors," said Kristen Harrison, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
After surveying 303 children ages 6 to 8 in Midwestern elementary schools, Ms. Harrison concluded that television viewing was a factor among both boys and girls who showed symptoms of eating disorders.
Prior research has shown links between TV watching and eating disorders in teens and young adults, Ms. Harrison said in a paper that will appear soon in the journal Communication Research.
Because the onset of eating disorders may begin "as early as toddlerhood," she wrote, "it is important to determine the point in life when television messages may begin to influence children's body-related cognitions and behaviors."
In her study, Ms. Harrison and her assistants asked the children about the amount of TV they watched, their favorite TV characters, their beliefs about ideal body shape, and their views on eating, such as whether they avoided "foods with sugar in them."
She found that children formed opinions about body size from television. For instance, boys who watched a lot of TV tended to form strongly negative views of fat girls, but not of fat boys. Also, girls who were attracted to thin female TV characters were more likely to view their own bodies as heavier.
Ms. Harrison found one upbeat correlation girls who liked average-weight female TV characters had "the healthiest or most normal" ideas about body weight.
"This suggests that adopting normal-weight role models on television could be beneficial to girls," she said.


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