Study Links Bulimia/Anorexia
In Fiji To The Arrival Of TV
"The teen-agers see TV as a model for how one gets by in the modern world. They believe the shows depict reality.''
BOSTON - A sudden increase in eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia among teen-age girls on Fiji may be linked to the arrival of television in the Pacific island nation in 1995, Harvard researchers said Tuesday.
Harvard Medical School anthropology professor Anne Becker, who has studied Fijian eating habits since 1988, said that since television's introduction into the country, there had been a sharp rise in indicators of disordered eating, such as induced vomiting.
Some 74 percent of Fijian girls reported feeling "too big or fat'' in a 1998 survey Becker conducted 38 months after the country's one television station began broadcasting. It airs British, New Zealand and U.S. programs such as "Seinfeld,'' ''ER,'' "Melrose Place'' and "Xena: Warrior Princess.''
Becker, who was scheduled to present her findings at the American Psychiatric Association in Washington Wednesday, said in an interview that 15 percent of the teen-age girls questioned reported they had vomited to control weight.
Traditionally, Fijians have preferred what Becker called a ''robust, well-muscled body'' for both sexes.
But with television's advent on an island that did not have electricity until 1985, adolescent girls became more aware of Western ideals of beauty.
"What I hope is that this isn't like the 19th century, when the British came to Fiji and brought the measles with them. It was a tremendous plague. One could speculate that in the 20th century, television is another pathogen exporting Western images and values,'' she said.
"Nobody was dieting in Fiji 10 years ago,'' Becker said, adding that at the end of almost every interview with teen-age girls they asked about dieting.
"The teen-agers see TV as a model for how one gets by in the modern world. They believe the shows depict reality,'' she said.