TV has 'significant impact on what people think is ideal woman's body'
The more television people watch the thinner a female body they prefer, according to a new study.
Claiming to have proved a direct link between TV and female body ideals, researchers said they were able to isolate the effects of media exposure from other cultural and ecological factors.
Assessing groups of people from rural Nicaragua, they grouped them into having different levels of access to Western media.
This included people from an urban area, a village with television access, and a village with little television access.
And it was found that the highest Body Mass Index (BMI) preferences were found in the village with the least media access, while those living in urban areas preferred thinner female bodies.
Co-leader on the research Dr Martin Tovee, a reader in visual cognition at Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience, said: "Our study shows that television is having a significant impact on what people think is the ideal woman's body.
"Nicaragua provides a unique opportunity to study media effects as we were able to minimise variance in potential confounding factors and focus on the influence of visual media.
"The differences in television access allowed us to explore how media exposure affects the size and shape women aspire to be.
"Findings revealed that the more television exposure people receive, the thinner a female body women and men prefer - the amount of media access directly predicts body ideals.
"Overall these results strongly implicate television access in establishing risk factors for body image dissatisfaction."
The study, published in the British Journal of Psychology, was conducted on the remote Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua, in two villages off the Pearl Lagoon Basin.
The villages were selected because their inhabitants have differing access to electricity and to the media, while at the same time sharing similar environmental and cultural constraints.
All were tested individually and asked to identify how much television they watched. Those who had access to TV reported watching programmes such as soap operas, imported US films and music videos.
Images of women's bodies were shown and participants were required to rate them for attractiveness on a scale of one to five.
Co-leader Dr Lynda Boothroyd, senior lecturer in psychology at Durham University, said: "Internalisation of a thin ideal is a well-established risk factor for body dissatisfaction and eating disorders in the West.
"Our data strongly suggests that access to televisual media is itself a risk factor for holding thin body ideals, at least for female body shape, in a population who are only just gaining access to television."