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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 23:17 GMT 00:17 UK
Television link to eating disorders
The problem has also been identified in the West
Doctors say they have found further evidence to suggest television programmes encourage eating disorders among teenage girls.

It follows a major study examining the impact of the introduction of television in two towns in the Pacific islands of Fiji.

Dr Anne Becker and colleagues from Harvard Medical School found that levels of poor body image and incidents of eating disorders among girls have increased since they were first exposed to television.

The media do not cause eating disorders

Eating Disorder Association spokesman
In a country where girls traditionally have good appetites and larger body shapes, many girls now vomit to control their weight, are on diets and believe they are too fat.

Major impact

The doctors interviewed and tested two sets of Fijian schoolgirls within a few weeks of the introduction of television to the area of Nadroga in 1995 and then again in 1998.

In 1995, the number of girls who self-induced vomiting to control their weight was zero. But three years after the introduction of television, that figure had reached 11%.

They also found that dieting had become commonplace. In 1998, 69% of those studied said they had gone on diets to lose weight and 74% said they thought they were "too big or fat".

The study showed that girls living in houses with a television set were three times more likely to show symptoms of eating disorders.

In interviews, the girls said they admired television characters and tried to copy them.

The doctors said it is possible that Fijian girls are particularly vulnerable to developing eating disorders given the difference between ethnic body shapes and media images.

This may be compounded by the fact that they may link the slender bodies of people on television with other status symbols such as expensive clothes and careers.

They may also be unaware that television images are contrived and edited, the doctors said.

Writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Dr Becker said: "The impact of television appears especially profound, given the longstanding cultural traditions that previously had appeared protective against dieting, purging and body dissatisfaction in Fiji."

The study is understood to be the first to investigate patterns of eating disorders before and after prolonged television exposure in a developing society.

The doctors called for more research to investigate if television is responsible for triggering other health problems.

Complex issue

However, the UK's Eating Disorders Association warned that the causes of eating disorders are complex.

A spokesman told BBC News Online: "The media can have an influence on people's thinking but the media do not cause eating disorders.

"People generally have a predisposition to eating disorders and while television images can influence peoples thinking they are not the root cause."

He added: "We would like programme producers and magazine editors to adopt a responsible attitude to portraying people, male and female.

"What we are asking is that they are representative of society and that images are not skewed towards a particular view of society and in many cases one that doesn't exist."

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