The article "Watching your weight? The relations between watching soaps and music television and body dissatisfaction and restrained eating in young girls" in the journal Psychology & Health discusses the results of a study of 245 girls aged as young as 7-9 years. It found that the more these girls watched soaps and music television, the more they were likely to see a thinner ideal body image, (which is in turn associated with higher body dissatisfaction and restrained eating). More than this, the study found a direct association between watching these programmes and restraining their eating.
The study concludes by suggesting implications for parents, urging caution about how much such television children should be allowed to watch due to concerns that it may be negatively influencing them. However, they also looked at the influence that mothers have on their daughters by giving sublte, (and not so subtle), messages about needing to eat less or not getting fat. The study concludes, "Future research is very important to recognise aspects of the media and family that are related to the development of body image disturbance or disturbed eating behaviour and to evolve strategies to protect young girls against this." It would seem like a timely reminder for all of us, parents, youth and childrens workers, and any adult who is concerned about the wellbeing of children and young people, to think long and hard about the messages we give them, and allow to be given to them. It is easy to wring our hands or just shrug our shoulders in a helpless fashion, but surely every one of us can do something not just to help protect them from negative messages but to give them positive messages which will help them to make healthier choices and have healthier outlooks.