• "Encouraging media outlets to choose models of a normal body size would be likely to lead to women perceiving their own size as smaller..." (Getty Images)
Researchers in the UK have used chocolate consumption to test whether better representation of larger women in the media could make us more satisfied with our own bodies.
By
Yasmin Noone

9 May 2018 - 8:01 AM  UPDATED 9 May 2018 - 9:06 AM

A new study suggests that women aged 18-to-25 could adopt healthier eating habits if they were more satisfied with their body size and saw more positive representations of larger females in the media.

According to the study from the UK's University of Bristolpublished today, circulating more images of women with a range of body sizes may even prevent obesity and eating disorders.

The researchers say changing the way women’s bodies are represented in the media could change their “internalised ‘ideal’ body size – the size that women compare their own bodies to. It could also influence how they see themselves.

“This may in turn reduce levels of body dissatisfaction, a known risk factor for eating disorders and obesity.”

“The results of our study suggest that encouraging media outlets to choose models of a normal body size would be likely to lead to women perceiving their own size as smaller and feeling more positive about their own body size,” the study reads.

“This may in turn reduce levels of body dissatisfaction, a known risk factor for eating disorders and obesity.”

The researchers looked at the relationship between eating disorders and the over-representation of very lean women – sometimes ‘photoshopped’ to look skinnier than they are – currently in the media.

The idea was to test whether weight gain or food avoidance could be prevented with the positive promotion of all female body shapes.

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So they conducted two tests. The first test involved 90 women aged 18-25 with a normal BMI. They were asked to complete a 15-minute task using photographs of women who were of ‘normal weight’ or altered to appear either underweight or overweight. The second study was near identical except the 96 participants were all generally dissatisfied with the bodies at baseline.

All the participants were asked rate the size of other women’s bodies and their satisfaction with their own size.

The researchers also observed whether there was a behavioural change related to eating as a result of seeing images of women at various weights. They tested this by measuring if the study’s participants ate more or less chocolate after seeing these images.

The results of study one showed that women exposed to ‘underweight’ images were less satisfied with body size than those exposed to ‘normal’ or ‘overweight’ images. There wasn’t much difference noted in their chocolate consumption.

They tested this by measuring if the study’s participants ate more or less chocolate after seeing these images.

Women in group two (who were more negative about their body image to begin with), who were shown overweight images were “more satisfied with their own bodies than those shown ‘underweight’ or ‘normal weight’ images”. Women in the ‘underweight’ and ‘overweight’ groups also ate less chocolate than those in the ‘normal weight’ group.

Overall, however, exposing women to images of different sizes did not change their chocolate eating habits. The authors reasoned that they might be so conditioned to seeing images of underweight bodies and also, chocolate consumption varies according to the individual.

The study’s authors concluded that showing images of large women more regularly could help women to be more satisfied with their own body size.

“Future research could usefully investigate whether such an intervention is effective in patients with a diagnosed eating disorder. In such patients, perceiving own body size as larger than it is in reality is a core part of the disorder, which is resistant to current treatments and is predictive of relapse.”

“Future research could usefully investigate whether such an intervention is effective in patients with a diagnosed eating disorder.

The National Eating Disorders Collaboration estimate that more than 16 per cent of the Australian population are affected by an eating disorder or disordered eating. Binge eating is the most common eating disorder, impacting six percent of Australians.

Across Australia, 60 per cent of adults and 25 per cent of teens are overweight and obese.

“Overweight and obese individuals are at increased risk of disordered eating and eating disorders (particularly binge eating disorder), while individuals who use unhealthy weight-control practices (e.g. fasting, purging and diet pills) are at increased risk of overweight and obesity,” the collaboration says on its website.

The collaboration views obesity and eating disorders as occurring at the same end of a spectrum with healthy beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours at one end, and problematic beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours on the other.

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