Media Exposure in Very Young Girls: Prospective and Cross-Sectional Relationships With BMIz, Self-Esteem and Body Size Stereotypes

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Abstract

Media exposure among young children has been suggested to influence self-concept and the adoption of social stereotypes regarding body weight, as well as being associated with increased weight. The aim of this study was to examine the role of TV/DVD viewing in the development of positive stereotypes toward thinness, self-esteem and body mass index standardized for child age and gender (BMIz) in very young girls. A sample of 143 girls completed interviews at ages 3, 4, and 5 years old. The interviews assessed positive stereotypes about thinness among girls, as well as age 5 dietary restraint. Parents reported on their daughters’ self-esteem and TV/DVD viewing. Objective height and weight were obtained for the children. A cross-lagged model exploring TV/DVD viewing as a predictor of lower self-esteem, greater BMIz, and endorsement of positive stereotypes about thinness was tested, including dietary restraint as an outcome at age 5. Findings revealed partial support for the theoretical model, with relationships emerging most strongly between the ages of 4 and 5 years old. Greater TV/DVD viewing was weakly related to greater endorsement of positive stereotypes about thinness between ages 3 and 4. In addition, greater TV/DVD viewing at age 4 predicted BMIz increases at age 5, as well as greater dietary restraint. Our results suggest that the impact of media exposure on body image and weight-related variables may start at a very early age. Findings contribute to the body of literature suggesting that early childhood may be an important developmental period for media exposure.

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