The Media Influence on Teen Diets

We are barraged with images by the media every day.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend half of their free time watching television. Add to that the time we spend consuming other forms of media and we can conclude that the images we see of very thin women can have a pervasive effect on our mental health and body image.

The images we see in the media distort reality. The average model in the fashion industry weighs approximately 120 pounds, while the average American woman weighs 169 pounds, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. This disparity leads consumers to believe they are overweight, when in reality, they are average. This, in turn, can cause mental health issues related to body image. Health conditions exacerbated by portrayals in the media include anxiety, depression, body dysmorphic disorder, anorexia, and bulimia.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety is extreme apprehension. It is a normal feeling associated with a reaction to a stress-inducing situation, but in some people, it can become excessive and lead to problems with functioning in everyday life. There are several types of anxiety-related disorders. Panic attacks are severe, acute episodes of anxiety and can happen in response to a trigger. Obsessive-compulsive disorder causes individuals to experience compulsions or persistent thoughts. And generalized anxiety disorder is a steady, overall anxious feeling.

Often, anxiety occurs along with depression. Depression is not the same as typical sadness: It is more pervasive and long lasting. People with depression may suffer from a persistent bleak outlook, negative rumination, and a lack of energy along with several other symptoms. Sufferers cannot simply get themselves out of the funk of depression: It is an illness that requires treatment over time.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) occurs when an individual fixates on a perceived imperfection with their body. The imperfections are typically imagined or not noticed by other people. Symptoms usually appear in the early teen years. They can include excessive grooming, plucking out one’s own hair, and constantly looking in the mirror. People with BDD often try to hide their bodies with clothing or makeup or seek to change them with diet, exercise, or plastic surgery.


Anorexia is an eating disorder marked by extreme food restriction or starvation and a distorted body image. It occurs most often in young women, although more and more young men are suffering with the issue. It can begin with simple changes in the diet but quickly escalates into a problem. Anorexia often occurs in tandem with depression. It is resistant to treatment and can be life-threatening. Anorexia has one of the highest death rates of all mental illnesses due to the heart damage it can cause. Long-term effects on the body can include osteoporosis and problems with fertility.


Bulimia, also known as bulimia nervosa, is an eating disorder that follows a binge-purge cycle. People suffering from bulimia binge on food and then use laxatives, self-induced vomiting, or diuretics to purge. Other types of behavior are sometimes used as part of the purge phase as well, such as periods of fasting or extreme exercise. The behaviors happen secretly, and it is often difficult to tell if someone is bulimic just from their appearance. The disorder typically appears in adolescence. Treatment typically consists of cognitive behavioral therapy. It can also include care for medical complications that can accompany bulimia. Bulimia sufferers can have severe dental problems associated with repeated vomiting. Electrolyte imbalances and intestinal problems are also common.

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