Of the almost 7,000 girls surveys, only a small percent exhibited behavior indicative of being overly concerned with body image.
The interpretation of the data is consistent, but does not totally support the unstated hypothesis that the media as well as peer pressure play a large part in how young girls feel about themselves and their body image. The conclusion they came to was that the media and peers have an influence on young girls and body image and that the media should use more models and women the look normal or like most of the young girls themselves so that eating disorder prevention programs can be more effective. The reality is that only one percent (1%) of the girls showed signs of behavior that was indicative of being affected by their peers and the media. However, a large percentage of this 1% did not show signs of improvement one year after the study.
The researchers received an excellent response rate from those surveyed. However, they have actually done a disservice to the entire study by not being more diverse in sample selection and casting a wider net. In addition to casting a wider net, the results of the research were based solely on responses to the survey. A better and more accurate response to many of the questions on the survey could have been received if the researchers had done interviews (with at least one parent present) or even focus groups. Though not a fact, sometimes with surveys people may not be as truthful as they would be face-to-face. Also, if a person is being interviewed there are certain things the interviewee can do to make the person more relaxed and at ease for more accurate answers.
In a focus group the researchers can use tactics to make the girls open up and feel comfortable around their peers. All it takes is one person to be candid about their experiences and soon others will open up and discuss their true feelings. If the researchers had done more than surveys as well as broadening their selection of participants, they would have received not only a much better, but more accurate response. The researchers state that their study was consistent with one that was done a year ago. In theory this is true, but it still does not mask the fact that there is considerable selection bias with this study. When selection is done in a nonrandom manner, bias occurs (Winship and Mare, 1992, p. 327).
The results that the researchers discovered were that most of the girls were in Tanners stages 2 through 5 (which are not uncommon for young girls at this age). Less than 30% of the girls surveyed had been on a diet and 14% stated they were concerned with their weight. A very small 6% stated that they tried to look like the females they saw in the media and even smaller percentages of the girls stated that being thin or being teased by their peers because of the weight was an issue. These numbers seem hardly cause for alarm and appear to be quite normal. If the percentage of girls stating their desire for thinness or their desire to look like women in the media was higher there might be some cause for alarm.
The basic concept behind this research is good. We know that young children can be affected by images they see in the media which can sometimes lead to behavior such as poor eating habits or strict dieting. However, if the researchers had not been biased in their selection of participants they could have had a more robust research study that did not support the hypothesis. Perhaps the hypothesis should have been clearly stated from the beginning as well as careful selection of participants. Then this study would not seem as skewed and biased as it does.
Field, a.E., Camargo, Jr., C.A., Taylor, C.B., Berkey, C.S., Colditz, G.A. (1999). Relation of peer and media influences to the development of purging behaviors among preadolescent and adolescent girls. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 153(11), 1184-1189.
Gerhard, T. (2008). Bias: Considerations for research practice. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 65(22), 2159-2168.
Miller, K.D., Rahman, Z.U., Sledge, Jr., G.W. (2001). Selection bias in clinical trials. Breast Disease, 14(1), 31-40.