Nevin Manimala Statistics

Discrepancies between media portrayals and actual demographics of eating disorders in TV and film: implications of representation

J Eat Disord. 2023 Sep 18;11(1):161. doi: 10.1186/s40337-023-00892-y.


BACKGROUND: Media has a reputation for painting a narrow, simplistic, sensationalized portrait of eating disorders. There is little analysis of how film and TV portray eating disorders nor the implications of this representation. This study fills that gap by comparing demographics of US film and TV characters since the 1980s to actual population demographics of people with eating disorders.

METHODS: We compiled a dataset of TV and movie characters with eating disorders and categorized characters’ gender, age, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. We narrowed the dataset to include only US media depictions to facilitate comparisons with empirical prevalence, resulting in a total of 66 characters over the period 1981 to 2022. We then compared the demographic characteristics of our sample to national statistics on eating disorder prevalence.

RESULTS: US media depictions of eating disorders overrepresented characters who were heterosexual (75.56%), White (84.85%), women (89.39%), and under age 30 (84.85%). This does not accurately reflect the populations experiencing eating disorders in the US.

CONCLUSIONS: Eating disorders have an image problem. TV and movies inaccurately portray them as primarily affecting heterosexual, White, women under age 30. Misrepresentation could fuel existing stigmas that inhibit individuals with eating disorders from seeking and receiving treatment. It could also perpetuate stereotypes that fuel misperceptions of the disease by medical providers, families, and policymakers. We recommend more accurate representation in the media to better reflect current demographics and increase awareness of the range of people who can experience eating disorders.

PMID:37723555 | DOI:10.1186/s40337-023-00892-y

By Nevin Manimala

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