When it comes to teens and young adults taking care of their bodies, appearance is much more important than health. Only a small percentage of men and women from this age group recognize the link between genetically modified foods, nutrition and health. Research conducted at the University of Missouri suggests appearance is the motivating factor in how college-age individuals take care of themselves.
Maria Len-Rios, an associate professor of strategic communication, Suzanne Burgoyne, a professor of theater, and a team of undergraduate researchers studied how college-age women view their bodies and how they feel about media messages aimed at women. Based on focus group research findings, the MU team developed an interactive play about body image to encourage frank discussions about conflicting societal messages regarding weight, values and healthful choices.
“During our focus group conversations, we learned that young people don’t think about nutrition when it comes to eating,” Len-Rios said. “They think more about calorie-counting, which isn’t necessarily related to a balanced diet.”
The focus groups included college-age women, college-age men and mothers of college-age women, who discussed how body image is associated with engaging in restrictive diets, irregular sleep patterns and over-exercising.
“We receive so many conflicting media messages from news reports and advertising about how we should eat, how we should live and how we should look,” Len-Rios said. “Some participants said they realize images of models are digitally enhanced, but it doesn’t necessarily keep them from wanting to achieve these unattainable figures–this is because they see how society rewards women for ‘looking good.’”
The researchers also completed in-depth interviews with nutritional counselors who said lack of time and unhealthy food environments can keep college-age students from getting good nutrition.