Dieting mothers depress self-esteem
Girls as young as age 5 who are overweight already may feel bad about themselves, and parental concerns may make it worse, shows a Pennsylvania State University study of 197 5-year-olds and their parents. The study found overweight girls felt bad about their bodies, and also believed they were less able intellectually and physically. These feelings were intensified if parents restricted food or reported concern about their daughter’s weight. Even girls who were not overweight tended to have lower self-esteem when parents worried about their weight.

A related study tracked weight and dieting attitudes of 12,000 girls and boys age 9 to 14. In one year the number who were highly concerned with their weight increased from 9 to 15 percent of girls and 4 to 6 percent of boys. The number who were constantly on a diet doubled from 2 to 4 percent of girls and 1 to 2 percent of boys. Parental attitudes, such as a mother frequently dieting or father to whom thinness was important, as well as media influences, were strong factors in whether a child worried about his or her weight.

Children who become obsessed with weight may turn into lifetime dieters or develop eating disorders, the researchers warned. Instead of an over concern with weight, they advise parents to create a home environment where fruits and vegetables are routine and physical activity is encouraged for everyone. (Davison K, Birch L, Weight status, parent reaction, and self-concept in 5-year-old girls. Pediatrics 2001;107:46-53. Field A, Camargo C, Taylor C, et al, Peer, parent, media influences on development of weight concerns and frequent dieting among preadolescent and adolescent girls and boys. Pediatrics 2001;107:54-60.)

Male action toys sport huge muscles
Do toys influence body dissatisfaction? Barbie has long been suspect. And now as body image problems and eating disorders for boys seem on the rise, a new study looks at trends in male action toys, the small plastic figures used by children in play.

Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo have swelled from their normal builds in 1978 to bodybuilder physiques, with massive shoulders and chests, narrow waists, and muscular arms and legs. GI Joe, first introduced in 1964, has grown far more muscular, with increasingly sharp muscular definition. Early GI Joes had no visible abdominal muscles, the 1975 version shows some definition, and the 1994 figure displays sharply rippled abdominals. The 1998 GI Joe Extreme dwarfs all earlier lines with huge chest, shoulders and arm muscles, and an expression of rage that contrasts sharply with the mildly pleasant expressions of the pre-1980 figures. Other popular 1998 figures  — Iron Man, Batman, Wolverine — sport physiques and a ferocity far beyond any seen on the largest wrestlers or bodybuilders.

Extrapolating the figures to a height of 5-foot-10 shows early figures having chests of about 44 inches, compared with 46 to 62 today, and biceps of 12 inches, compared with 18 to 32 today.

The authors cite research on striking increases in body dissatisfaction for male students with and without eating disorders. They suggest that the toys parallel male actors, models, and comic strip characters in becoming leaner and more muscular over the last several decades. (Pope H, Olivardia R, Gruber A, et al. Evolving ideals of male body image as seen through action toys. Int J Eat Disord 1999;26:65-72)

 Women’s body image complicates HIV treatment
Weight loss is a frequent complication of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), but some women may be happy to lose that weight. Thus, the preferred body image of female patients with HIV may influence whether they accept medications or not. Medications (protease inhibitors) may increase weight, abdominal girth, breast size, and peripheral wasting.

A study at the Medical Center of  Louisiana in New Orleans looked at these issues and found 6 percent of HIV-infected African-American and 23 percent of non-African-American women had tried to lose weight in the past year. Almost 20 percent of non-African-American women preferred an underweight size, along with 1 percent of African-American women. Results were not affected by the stage of infection of the women.

Thus, the authors say, many female patients may try to attain body weights that are not helpful to their health status. Shortened survival in HIV is closely related to loss of lean body muscle. (Healthy Weight Journal 1999:14:2;19 / Clark RA, Niccolai L, Kissinger PJ, et al. Ethnic differences in body image attitudes and perceptions among women infected with HIV. J Am Diet Assoc 1999;99:735-737)

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