Adolescence is a period which encompasses many physical and emotional changes and transitions, which can cause potential concerns over physical appearance in growing adolescents. Eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are common disorders that can affect individuals of all ages, though the average age of onset lays within the adolescent years1,2.
Previous studies have reported an increase in the prevalence of adolescent eating disorders over the past 50 years3. It is common for individuals of this age group to compare body image to friends, peers, or those in the media, often questioning their appearance. Influences on body image can develop due to biological, psychological, or social factors3. For example, a social factor that can influence body image is bullying. Bullying is common during adolescence and can occur with anyone of any weight and age. Across Canada, it is becoming more widespread among schools, homes, public locations, as well as on online platforms. Many teens have stated that the development of their eating disorders was partially caused through teasing from peers, typically regarding appearance4.
Overweight and underweight children and teenagers tend to be most at risk for developing an eating disorder as they are generally targets for bullying5.Today, children are surrounded by a world of mass media; let’s take a moment to consider the influence of the media. Through advertisements, television shows, movies, magazines and especially social media, men are constantly portrayed as being strong and muscular while women are portrayed as flawless and thin. Over the years, studies have reported a change in the cultural ideal for both genders, which has become more and more slim over time3. It is known that adolescents are the highest risk population for eating disorders and this age group also reports a high amount of body dissatisfaction, with more dissatisfaction reported in girls than boys1,3. Current literature verifies that children within this age group are vulnerable to the messages which are shown through mass media3. Due to the strong influence that mass media has on the adolescent population, it plays a critical role in body dissatisfaction among this age group and may be partially responsible for an increase in the prevalence of eating disorders3. The high standards created through the media have become intertwined within the western culture and may explain why so many adolescents are insecure about their physical appearance. When combining possible bullying with the pressure to appear flawless and thin during a period where your body is growing and changing (puberty), it is not difficult to understand why teenagers have such a high rate of body dissatisfaction.
While raising children at this age group, it is important to act as a good role model in supporting a healthy body image, as well as recognizing disordered eating behaviours in order to identify the signs early on. Even at such a critical stage of growth, adolescents may try various short-term weight loss strategies to alter their appearance which can be very damaging to the body3. Effects from an eating disorder may not be recognizable immediately but can cause serious harm in the long run. If left unrecognized, medical problems and emotional distress may result. For parents reading this, reinforcing body positive behaviour is important during this period of adolescence. Avoid diet talk and do not bring diet food products into the household. Furthermore, reiterate the message that health can be achieved at any size and that your teenage child’s value and success is not based on the their physical appearance. With support from loved ones, a teenager can develop a healthy relationship with their body and begin to feel good in their own skin.
- About Eating Disorders. (2015). Retrieved from: http://www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk/about/about-eating-disorders
- Manley, R.S. (2012). Eating disorders in children and adolescence: Information for those living with an eating disorder. In Kelty Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://keltyeatingdisorders.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/kelty_eatingdisorders_oct2012_web_final.pdf
- Morris A.M., & Katzman D.K. (2003). The impact of the media on eating disorders in children and adolescents. Paediatr Child Health. 2003; 8(5): 287–289.
- Adolescent eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders are treatable. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.healthyteenproject.com/adolescent-eating-disorders-ca
- Bullying and body image. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/eating-disorder/bullying-and-body-image