A new study released by the University of Minnesota shows that teenagers who read lots of magazine articles about dieting are five times as likely to practice "extreme dieting measures"--including fasting and intentional vomiting--than teens who don't.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, Harvard Med School researcher Alison Field commented, "The articles may be offering advice such as cutting out trans fats and soda, and those are good ideas for everybody. But the underlying messages these articles send are, `You should be concerned about your weight and you should be doing something.'"
This study will come as no surprise to any parent of an eating-disordered child. It describes perfectly the nexus between culture and eating disorders, which is not black and white, either/or. Do magazine articles cause anorexia and bulimia? No, but they clearly, clearly play a role in triggering adolescents who are vulnerable.
And it's not just teen magazines, either. Not long ago on an online forum for parents who are re-feeding their anorexic children, someone started a thread on what triggered each child's descent into anorexia. I was shocked by how many parents mentioned a school health class. And in fact, a 6th-grade "health" class that focused on the dangers of obesity and the virtue of cutting out fats, carbs, and other "bad" foods was the catalyst that led to my own daughter's full-blown anorexia a year and a half later.
As parents, we're used to thinking about all sorts of potentially risky behaviors: drugs, early sexual behavior, alcohol, etc. Now we can add another one to the list.