The Biggest Loser: Children

Essay by ryan66027College, UndergraduateA, September 2007

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Television viewing is a major activity for children and young adults all over the world. The programs and advertisements presented on TV depict men and women with impossibly perfect bodies. Studies have shown that, with the advent of the television, children are beginning to diet and become dissatisfied with their own body image at a younger and younger age.

A study by the Harvard Medical School found that eating disorders in the Pacific island county of Fiji multiplied at an alarming rate within only three years of the TV’s introduction there. A 1998 survey reported that the number of adolescent girls who vomited to control their weight increased by 500 percent only 38 months after the television made it’s way onto the island. In the same survey 74 percent of Fijian girls thought that they were fat and that those who watched TV three or more nights per week were 50 percent more likely to consider themselves fat (HMS News).

Until TV arrived in Fiji, the women considered to be attractive were typically those who were large. Fijians correlated a high social position with those who were large. The cultural norm on the island, prior to 1998, was to eat beyond nutritional satisfaction.

Here in America, young teens respond to the television’s impact in much the same manner. Childhood obesity has been on the rise for the past two decades but despite this, most advertisements on TV come from the fast-food industry. Reportedly, McDonald’s alone spends six million dollars a year on advertising. Diana Levin of Wheelock College stated thatSager 2over one-third of teenage girls in America report dieting and discontent with their bodies (Changing the Channels). She reports that overweight children experience depression related to their low self image and are more susceptible to the feel-good advertisements.

Television’s negative effect on children’s self image isn’t just limited to America. Western programming is presented in much of the world. Australian teens spend an average of two and half hours per day in front of the TV and in that time a child may see as many as 75 advertisements per day. These advertisements target young teens by making them feel unhappy and dissatisfied. The ads tells young, impressionable teens that unless they look like the models strutting down the runway, they are not beautiful. A recent study found that there is a clear, marked link between TV viewing and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia (Becker). Another study, from Austria’s Flinders University, showed that television advertising featuring models negatively affects both the mood and body image of teen girls (Hargreaves).

Many parents may feel overwhelmed. Many believe that no matter how hard they may try, television simply has too great of an influence. Child psychologists encourage instilling a positive self worth in young children. These psychologists advise limiting a young child’s exposure to commercial TV, at least in the early, developing years. Parents should also educate their children on the techniques used in advertising. A study from Flinders University has shown that media education can promote critical viewing skills and less concern about body image (Wade).

Television can have a negative influence on children. An average child may view as many as 22,000 advertisements per year. There is no simple solution to this complex problem.

Sager 3Children permitted unrestricted access to television are more likely to begin to diet and become dissatisfied with their own body image in early youth. Responsible parenting is not only the first line on defense, it is also the most effective means of shielding children from viewing programs and advertisements that can cause long term psychological damage.

Works CitedBecker, A. "Marked Link Found Between Eating Disorders and TV." British Journal of Psychiatry, June (2002).

Changing the Channels. 17 June 2007. 20 Aug. 2007 .

Hargreaves, D. "Adolescent Body Image Suffers From Media Images of the Impossibly Thin." Flinders University Journal, June (2002).

HMS News. 19 May 1999. Harvard Medical School. 20 Aug. 2007 .

Wade, T. "Getting Critical of Media Glamour May Starve Off Eating Disorder." FlindersUniversity Journal, Mar. (2002).