Media effects of experimental presentation of the ideal physique on eating disorder symptoms: a meta-analysis of laboratory studies

Clin Psychol Rev. 2013 Feb;33(1):168-81. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2012.10.011. Epub 2012 Nov 6.


Background: Older meta-analyses of the effects of the media's portrayal of the ideal physique have found small effects revealing that exposure to the ideal physique increases body image concerns. These meta-analyses also included correlational, quasi-experimental, and experimental studies, with limited examination of moderators and other relevant outcomes besides body image.

Methods: We conducted a systematic literature search and identified 33 experimental (i.e., pre and post data for both experimental and control groups) laboratory studies examining the effects of acute exposure to the media's portrayal of the ideal physique on eating disorder symptoms (i.e., body image, positive affect, negative affect, self-esteem, anger, anxiety and depression) and the mechanisms that moderate this effect.

Results: Fourteen separate meta-analyses revealed a range of small to moderate effect sizes for change in outcomes from pre to post for both experimental and control groups. Exposure to images of the ideal physique resulted in small effect sizes for increased depression and anger and decreased self-esteem and positive affect. Moderator analyses revealed moderate effect sizes for increased depression and body dissatisfaction among high-risk participants.

Conclusions: This meta-analysis makes it clear that media exposure of the ideal physique results in small changes in eating disorder symptoms, particularly with participants at high risk for developing an eating disorder. Further research is needed to examine the longitudinal effects of media exposure of eating disorder symptoms.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Body Image / psychology*
  • Child
  • Depression / psychology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Media*
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Self Concept
  • Young Adult