Objective: To assess prospectively the relation of peer and media influences on the risk of development of purging behaviors.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: One year follow-up of 6982 girls aged 9 to 14 years in 1996 who completed questionnaires in 1996 and 1997 and reported in 1996 that they did not use vomiting or laxatives to control weight.
Main outcome measure: Self-report of using vomiting or laxatives at least monthly to control weight.
Results: During 1 year of follow-up, 74 girls began using vomiting or laxatives at least monthly to control weight. Tanner stage of pubic hair development was predictive of beginning to purge (odds ratio [OR] = 1.8; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.3-2.4). Independent of age and Tanner stage of pubic hair development, importance of thinness to peers (OR = 2.3; 95% CI, 1.8-3.0) and trying to look like females on television, in movies, or in magazines (OR= 1.9; 95% CI, 1.6-2.3) were predictive of beginning to purge at least monthly. Regardless of the covariates included in the logistic regression model, the risk of beginning to purge increased approximately 30% to 40% per 1-category increase in frequency of trying to look like females on television, in movies, or in magazines.
Conclusions: Both peers and popular culture, independent of each other, exert influence on girls' weight control beliefs and behaviors. Therefore, to make eating disorder prevention programs more effective, efforts should be made to persuade the television, movie, and magazine industries to employ more models and actresses whose weight could be described as healthy, not underweight.