Dieting & weight loss should never be encouraged in the media - Where do you stand?

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Here at Epigram Wellbeing, we are starting a series of debates, to get people talking about different mental health issues. To kick off the series, students Lucy and Rainha respond to our statement: Dieting and weight loss should never be encouraged in the media

For: 'If our warped perceptions (...) are even partly down to the irresponsibility of the media then we shouldn't be putting our health into its hands.'

By Lucy O’Neill, 2nd Year French and Spanish

In recent years, our media sources have become simultaneously more accessible and less well informed, with social media in particular providing a public platform for the sharing of unchecked and potentially harmful content. It is dangerous for such an influential platform to propagate content about dieting and weight loss when such delicate subjects should be dealt with by professionals who have authority to broach them.

Since 2006, internet use has more than doubled and according to the office for national statistics, as much as 69% of women and 60% men now use the internet for social media purposes. Unfortunately, these platforms approach issues such as dieting and weight loss insensitively. We are bombarded by a very specific criteria of what constitutes the perfect person and it is always the same skinny profile that the blue light of a screen burns onto our retina. Branded by the perfect image, we are subconsciously aware that it is our look more than anything else that renders us a success.

The problem with today's media is the platform it gives to those who do not use it responsibly.

It is easy to belittle the gravity of this superficial attitude. Yet, whilst such ideas of course have no standing in reality, the power of these ubiquitous images against which one is constantly required to compare oneself is terrifying. Eating disorders are just one example of a multitude of mental health issues that the media has the power to trigger.

Since 2005-6 the rate of inpatient hospital admissions related to eating disorders has increased by around 7% a year according to the charity Beating Eating Disorders UK. A study into the correlation between Facebook use and disordered eating cited by anorexiabulimiacare.org draws a direct link between those who most frequently used Facebook and those who were at increased risk of disordered eating. Whilst hard to judge in exact terms, the impact of new forms of media on our mental health is undeniably present.

The problem with today's media is the platform it gives to those who do not use it responsibly. Kim Kardashian is an example of a social media ‘influencer’ whose role model status is concerning. In May 2018, she shared an Instagram post to her 118 million followers promoting appetite suppressant lollipops as a dieting tip, as if weight loss were a fashion trend rather than a health issue. This attitude underpins all that is wrong with the way the media addresses matters of health and wellbeing. However, it is not Kardashian that should be accountable for this, but our irresponsible media use for giving someone so underqualified the platform to address such issues.

Thanks to modern media, dieting and weight loss have become buzz words now often associated with negative body image rather than healthy lifestyles. If our warped perceptions of wellbeing are even partly down to the irresponsibility of the media then we shouldn't be putting our health into its hands. By instead giving this responsibility to the education system and the NHS, we could protect our mental as well as physical health. When it comes to the media, it seems it is time we recovered from the electric shock it has caused and began to learn how to treat our powerful new platforms with respect.

Against: 'Being on a diet DOES NOT mean that you hate your body'

By Rainha Passi, 3rd Year Cellular and Molecular Medicine

Why does dieting most often get associated with undesirable images? Supermodels starving themselves to meet the needs of a cutting-edge industry or the rude implication of someone being forced to go on a diet as an aftermath of body shaming. Being on a diet DOES NOT mean that you hate your body, it means that you are willing to give yourself the attention you require to be healthy. Dieting and diets should be encouraged in the media as long as it is in a healthy and controlled manner.

If an Instagram pop-up can swap a donut for a fruit, you’re already making a beneficial change.

Having a healthy body promotes a healthy mind. And studies from the WHO to the NHS have shown that individuals who maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly and sleep sufficiently are much more likely to live longer, healthier and happier lives. The media promotes most successful diet plans not because they are deliberately difficult but because they have proven results and mostly aim to inspire you to better your body rather than condemn you for having the body that you have.

Just like most things, diets should be followed in moderation and tailored to an individual’s capacity. By reading about diets in the media, you are mentally training yourself to make smaller changes in your life. And if an Instagram pop-up can swap a donut for a fruit, you’re already making a beneficial change.

The EASO predicts that the rate of obesity has doubled in the past 40 years and poses the greatest threat to mankind now that through the course of history. With the correct use of diet promotion in the media, obesity can be combatted successfully. Like anorexia, obesity is an eating disorder and must be treated as such. By promoting diets in magazines, websites and blogs, an isolation from emotional dependence on food is created and can assist on the road to recovery especially when broken down into short term goals, like 10kgs in 10 months.

The primary purpose of the media is to inform people. Diets specific to allergic requirements, religious requirements and healthcare needs can be found in various magazines, medical journals and websites that encourage, promote and inspire thousands of people to make a positive change in their lives.

At the end of the day, it’s your choice on where you draw the line on what media is information and what is merely promotion. And if you can believe in the world ending in 2012, a soft Brexit or denim skirts making a comeback, you can believe in yourself to see a diet though till the end.

Featured Image: Unsplash / Jessica To'oto'o


Where do you stand on the issue? Do you believe that dieting and weightloss should be encouraged or not? Let us know by commenting on Facebook or getting in touch!

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