Study: Diet Commercials Fuel Eating and Body Image Concerns
Past studies have shown that watching commercials related to diet, weight-loss, and fitness may cause highly restrained eaters—that is, people who maintain strict control of their eating—to overeat and experience negative emotions. Two new studies reported in the International Journal of Eating Disorders confirm this finding and provide intriguing results.
Researchers at Macalester College and Texas A & M University documented these studies using high school and college-aged women, with participants on the high end and low end of dietary restriction. For each study, the women watched an emotionally intense movie interrupted by either neutral commercials (e.g., advertisements of linens or windows) or fitness and diet-related commercials (e.g., Weight Watchers, Slim Fast).
The researchers predicted that women in the highly restrained group would consume more snack foods after exposure to diet commercials than those in a control group. Earlier studies indicated that rather than offering “inspiration” to highly restrained eaters, the commercials elicited snacking and overeating.
In the first study, 91 high school aged women watched commercials that appeared halfway through the movie. As predicted, the women restraining their food ate nearly twice as much after viewing diet and weight-loss commercials as those in the other experimental groups. This demonstrates that highly restrained eaters are more susceptible to impulsive eating when exposed to thin-ideal messages. Participants compared themselves unfavorably to the messages presented, which fueled the impulsive eating. Interestingly, both control groups ate the same amounts after watching the neutral commercials.
In a second study, 102 college-aged women were shown the commercials near the beginning of the movie. Researchers wanted to see if presenting stimuli emphasizing encouraging messages early on about weight-loss would boost the moral of the highly restraining group—but this was still not the case.
Instead of encouraging the highly restrained group, they continued to eat the same amount no matter when the commercials were shown. This time the effects were on the low restrained eaters who ate more when the commercials were shown earlier.
Although the women in the highly restrained group ate more overall, these findings remind us that all women are susceptible to media images, and that diet commercials generally do not benefit or inspire anyone.
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Fall 2005 Volume 3, Number 4
©2005 Gürze Books