We’re Not Buying It – Sending A Message To Advertisers

A number of studies have demonstrated that televised and print media have a profound influence on individuals who are either vulnerable of developing or currently struggling with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or compulsive overeating disorder.  The findings…

Eating Disorders and the MediaA number of studies have demonstrated that televised and print media have a profound influence on individuals who are either vulnerable of developing or currently struggling with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or compulsive overeating disorder.  The findings of research conducted in Fiji, where television was introduced less than 20 years ago, revealed a direct correlation between imagery of super skinny celebrities and models and a shift in public opinions and perceptions of body image.  It should come as no surprise that in American culture the pervasive advertising campaigns promoting “thin is in” have seriously impacted how individuals see themselves and others.

Since broadcasters rely on advertising revenue to support their programming, it sometimes seems that, short of an outright boycott, the public is at the mercy of relentless commercial messaging.  However, recently the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), an organization that supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders, scored a major victory when they persuaded parent company General Mills to pull a commercial that they believed promoted eating disordered behavior.  The executives for Yoplait responded to NEDA’s request with impressive speed and demonstrated great responsibility to the mental and physical health of the viewing public.

The commercial in question depicted a young woman confronted with a large raspberry cheesecake when she opens a refrigerator.  What follows is an internal mental negotiation during which the woman wonders whether she should eat a piece of the cake and, if so, how she might “cancel out” the consumption by eating celery sticks or exercising.   As the conflicted woman ponders her options another woman appears and seizes a raspberry cheesecake-flavored yogurt and declares, “I’ve been thinking about this all day.”  The first woman remarks, “Wow, you’ve lost weight.”   She then proceeds to acquire her own yogurt.

On the surface, the commercial may appear to be a lighthearted vignette, but for individuals who struggle with eating disordered behavior, the mental gymnastics surrounding what to eat or not eat is all-too-familiar.  Bargaining with oneself when it comes to food is the sort of behavior that may ultimately develop into a full-blown eating disorder when the negotiations become obsessive and encourage severe restriction.

The commercial executives for Yoplait confess that it was never their intention to promote eating disordered behavior and, confronted with the possible perception that this was their intent, they considered this “cause for concern” and instantly pulled the commercial from the air.  Their responsible action is extremely encouraging and commendable for it suggests that eating disorders are becoming recognized more widely as a serious public health issue that cannot be dismissed or marginalized.  This can only benefit eating disordered individuals, their families and loved ones, for recognizing the seriousness of these disorders is the first step on the way to recovery.

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