A study in the March 1999 issue of Pediatrics reinforced what we already feared: young girls are suffering from negative body image and are engaging in unhealthy behaviors as a result. A majority of girls (59 percent) reported dissatisfaction with their body shape, and 66 percent expressed the desire to lose weight; the prevalence of overweight in this study was 29 percent.
Girls were asked about their frequency of reading women's fashion magazines. Some 69 percent reported that appearance of models in the magazines influenced their image of a perfect female body, and 47 percent desired to lose weight because of the magazine pictures.
The article presents a concise review of these devastating health problems and rightfully suggests that "the print media aimed at young girls could serve a public health role by refraining from relying on models who are severely underweight and printing more articles on the benefits of physical activity."
From fashion magazines to television, the Internet to billboards, video games to film, and music lyrics to the novel on the best-seller list, we live in a media world and can only appreciate the good in media—and comprehend and ferret out the harmful—if we are media-educated.
The Academy has developed a policy statement and guide for parents that suggests ways families can promote media education in their homes, including:
· recommending no television in a child's bedroom,
· prohibiting media use during meals,
· encouraging parents to be positive media role models, and
· encouraging children to pursue a variety of other activities during leisure time, especially reading.
Critical thinking and critical viewing habits are integral components of media education. Adults can use bothersome media portrayals for conversation and discussion. "Do you think the Wily Coyote would really jump up after being hit in the head with a boulder?" "Why does a beer company use little frogs to encourage people to buy and drink beer?" "Does this fashion model look healthy? Energetic? Why would a company use a model like this to sell clothing?"
Media-educated children and youth should understand that behind all media products are potent political, social and economic forces. Children feel very powerful when they understand that all media products are constructed—carefully created for a purpose—to sell, to persuade, to manipulate, to create a feeling.
We also know, through experience and research, that the media may teach and model unhealthy sexual behaviors and normalize and glamorize use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs. Heavy viewers and users of media tend to have problems in school and sheer time spent with media limits the valuable time a child spends in active play, creative pursuits, socializing with family and friends, and reading.
Rather than depending on the media industry to self-correct, pediatricians and parents should embrace media education as the best and simplest solution to the public health risks presented by the media.
Excerpted from AAP News Article, May 1999, Media Education Offers Help on Children's Body Image Problems
© 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics