The Health Equity Blog’s mission is to contribute to the discussion of health policy using evidence and research, to explore the opportunities for health equity through policy change, to raise awareness about health disparities, and to increase public advocacy for health equality.

According to the CDC, “Health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to ‘attain his or her full health potential’ and no one is ‘disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.’”

Achievement of full health potential is necessary in all aspects of life – from running errands to relationships with loved ones. Some people are born into environments that limit their ability to achieve their full health potential. We believe that because society created many health inequalities, society can also fix them.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Media's Portrayal of Women's Bodies and Its Consequences

It’s New Year’s Eve which means the people across the world are making resolutions for next year.  One of the most popular resolutions is also the one that Emily and I find the most frustrating - lose weight.  Don’t get me wrong, losing weight can be a very healthy thing to do; however,  it isn’t always.  Losing weight should never be the goal (or resolution) - being healthy should.  So why do so many people, especially women, focus on the weight?

Media’s Portrayal of Women

It’s no surprise to anyone that models are thin, but, in fact, most runway models have BMIs low enough to qualify as anorexic.  Models have been getting thinner as well - “Twenty years ago, the average fashion model weighed 8 percent less than the average woman. Today, she weighs 23 percent less” (Most Models Meet Criteria for Anorexia).  When women turn on the TV or go to a movie, they are inundated with images of women who are much smaller than they are.  “You either look like Calista Flockhart in Ally McBeal and your weight is never mentioned, or you look like Nikki Blonsky [...] and your weight is the focus of the show (The Unwritten Weight Rules for Hollywood Actresses).  If an actress does approach a more average body size, she is generally attacked in the media - just ask Jennifer Love Hewitt who was bullied in the tabloids for pictures taken of her at the beach (one of which is below).  

Women everywhere are being told that being a healthy weight is fat.  We hear sayings like, “you can never be too rich or too thin” or Kate Moss’ “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, so it is no wonder healthy women are always trying to lose that last 5 pounds.  For more on the media’s representation of women, check out Mis-representation and America the Beautiful - both are great documentaries and are available on Netflix.  It’s also important to note that men aren’t immune to skewed images in the media either.  Check out the National Eating Disorder website for more info on the increase in muscularity in the media as well as other issues more specific to men with eating disorders.

The Consequences
You might be thinking, “but wait, isn’t there an obesity epidemic in this country?  This can’t be that big of a problem if there is”; however, there are many negative consequences to the unhealthy portrayals of women in the media and our resultant desire for the unattainable body.

1.) Dissatisfaction with body image starts young and can create disordered eating
“Studies have found that nearly half of females ages 6-8 have stated that they want to be slimmer” (Female Body Image and the Mass Media).  The quoted article goes on to say that most eating disorders start as normal dieting behaviors but a good predictor that someone will have a clinical eating disorder is that she had early body dissatisfaction and dieting behavior.  There are not definitive numbers on how many people suffer from eating disorders as many go untreated, but the estimate is between 3 and 10%.  A striking example of how media can cause eating disorders is Fiji.  Before TV was available on the island, only 3 percent of middle school girls surveyed on the island said they had induced vomiting to control their weight - after TV, that percentage rose to 15.  Before TV, 13% of girls were considered at risk for an eating disorder, after TV it rose to 29%.  (Study Finds TV Alters Fiji Girls' View of Body)  Moreover, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and are associated with depression.

2.) Even women without eating disorders damage their health
Recently, a study came out showing that unregulated supplements, especially those that supposedly burn fat or calories, are causing liver damage.  Supplements account for almost 20% of drug related liver injuries, and, though many are treatable, some people need liver transplants or die from these injuries.  When the ideal body image is unattainable by healthy means, people will turn to unhealthy means.


Instead of making your New Year’s resolution to lose weight, focus on being healthy or feeling good.  Maybe resolve to work out the recommended amount of time a week, or eat more vegetables.  Maybe resolve to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol.  If those things mean that you also lose weight then great - if they don’t, then you didn’t need to lose weight in the first place.

*If you or someone you know is suffering from disordered eating, please seek the care of a medical professional.  To learn more, check out www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or www.anad.org.

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