Fitness Magazines and Eating Disorders: Is There a Relationship?
In their survey of 498 sophomores, juniors and seniors, the researchers asked the girls how often they read health and fitness magazines; whether, in the previous year, they used laxatives, diet pills, made themselves throw up, or limited their caloric intake to under 1,200 calories per day. They also administered the Mizes Anorectic Cognitions Scale, a 33-item test measuring the prevalence of anorexic thinking patterns.
The research team found evidence of unhealthy weight-control practices among the girls.
- About 11 percent of them admitted using laxatives for weight loss or weight control
- 15 percent said they had taken appetite control or weight-loss pills
- 9 percent said they had made themselves vomit
- 52 percent indicated they had restricted their calories to 1,200 a day or less.
In correlating the health and fitness magazine reading habits with the above characteristics Thomsen et al. found:
- 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
With these numbers in hand, the researchers concluded there were moderate to strong links between those unhealthy practices and the reading of health and fitness magazines in their study.
On the test for anorexic tendencies, the average score of the 46 percent of the girls who read the magazines at least once a month was significantly higher than the average scores of the girls who read the magazines moderately or infrequently. About seven percent of the overall sample scored in the same range in which clinically diagnosed anorexics typically register.
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Thomsen said although they found a correlation between eating habits and reading material, it doesn’t mean one causes the other. However, he said frequently reading health and fitness magazines could indicate that a young woman is proceeding on a path toward anorexic thinking patterns. “What’s not known is whether it is that thinking that prompts her to read the magazines or whether the magazines prompt that thinking,” said Thomsen.
Thomsen said parents shouldn’t panic if they find their daughter reading a health and fitness magazine, but try to understand her motivations. “If it leads to some kind of obsessive behavior regarding exercise and weight control, then I would be concerned. She may be getting a skewed perception of what women ought to be and what women ought to look like.”