Purpose: To examine the association of adolescents' wanting to look like figures in the media with physical activity levels.
Methods: Cross-sectional mailed survey of 11,606 boys and girls, between the ages of 9 and 16 years, participating in the Growing Up Today Study in 1997. Participants reported detailed information on physical activities over the previous year, and the degree to which they were trying to look like same-sex images in television, movies, and magazines. We performed linear regression modeling to assess the independent effects of wanting to look like figures in the media on physical activity levels.
Results: Mean total weekly physical activity levels were 12.4 hours in girls and 15.2 hours in boys. 3019 (46%) girls and 1360 (27%) boys reported making at least some effort to look like figures in the media. Adjusted for age, body mass index, sexual maturity rating, and race/ethnicity, total physical activity levels were higher by 0.7 (95% CI 0.5-0.9) and 1.2 (95% CI 0.9-1.6) hours per week in girls and boys, respectively, for every 1 (out of 5) category increase in wanting to look like figures in the media. Adjustment for intrapersonal and social confounders modestly attenuated the associations.
Conclusions: Wanting to look like figures in the media was associated with higher physical activity levels among older children and adolescents, independent of other personal and social influences. These data suggest that television, movie, and magazine industries should be encouraged to cultivate and reinforce realistic and healthy norms of physical activity and body image.