The Links Between TV, Social Networks, And Eating Disorders

The gals from Friends were role models for a generation of women.: image via gals from Friends were role models for a generation of women.: image via Researchers from Harvard Medical School's Department of Global Health and Social Medicine paid a visit to Fiji to study the effects of media, especially TV, on the rise of eating disorders among adolescent Fiji girls. You would think the answer would be obvious... It was not.

Why Figi?  Figi is like virgin territory when it comes to TV, the Internet, and print media, which did not come to the island until the last 10 to 15 years.  You can imagine what a culture shock it is to the islanders to receive Western entertainment every day - and some areas still don't have access to media.

Still, many of today's Fiji adolescents were raised on U.S. TV programs like Seinfeld, Friends, Melrose Place, and others that showed off young actresses who were successful, beautiful, and thin.  Those images came into a culture that traditionally saw beautiful women more like the women in a Rubens painting.

Cause and effect?  Yes, but not what you would suspect. The surprising results were that the teens who did not have TVs in their homes had a 60 percent increased risk of acquiring an eating disorder if they had a lot of friends with TVs. Girls without TVs were even more susceptible to eating disorders than the girls who had TVs.  And even more oddly, for those who watched TV, it was not shown to have an impact on the teens, independent of urban location, body shape, and other influences.

Nicholas Christakis, medical sociologist at Harvard Medical School, has been studying the spread of health problems through social networks.

"It shouldn't be that surprising to us, even though it is intriguing, that the indirect effects of media are greater," Christakis said.  "Most people aren't paying attention to the media, but they are paying attention to what their friends say about what's in the media. It's a kind of filtration process that takes place by virtue of our social networks." 

Just wait until these teens get access to Facebook!

via EurekAlert