Extensive research has implicated identification with characters in mass media in the emergence of disordered eating behavior in adolescents. We explored the possible influence of the models offered by television (TV) on adolescents’ body image, body uneasiness, eating-disordered behavior, depression, and anxiety.
Methods: Three hundred and one adolescents (aged 14-19) from southern Italy participated. They completed a questionnaire on media exposure and body dissatisfaction, the Eating Disorder Inventory-2, the Body Uneasiness Test, the Beck Depression Inventory, and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory – Form Y.
Results: The main factors contributing to females’ eating-disordered behaviors were their own desires to be similar to TV characters, the amount of reality and entertainment TV they watched, and the discrepancy between their perceptions of their bodies and those of TV characters. Friends’ desire to be similar to TV characters contributed most to depression, anxiety, body uneasiness, and eating disorders for both males and females.
Conclusion: Our data confirm that extensive watching of reality and entertainment TV correlates with eating-disordered behavior among females. Moreover, the well-known negative effects of the media on adolescents’ eating-disordered behaviors may also be indirectly transmitted by friends who share identification with TV characters