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Media Influence on the Body Image Among Students in UAE | OMICS International
ISSN: 2161-0711
Journal of Community Medicine & Health Education

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Media Influence on the Body Image Among Students in UAE

Jayadevan Sreedharan3*, Anne Antony1, Shakaib Qureshi1, Sakia Fazal1, Hisham Siddiqui1, Juel Choudhury1, Pervaiz Aslam1, Elsheba Mathew2, Rizwana B Shaikh2 and Shatha Al-Sharbatti2

1College of Medicine, Gulf Medical University, Ajman, UAE

2Department of Community Medicine, Gulf Medical University, Ajman, UAE

3Research division, Gulf Medical University, Ajman, UAE

Corresponding Author:
Dr. Jayadevan Sreedharan
Research division
Gulf Medical University
Ajman, UAE
Tel: +97167463333
Fax: +97167464222

Received Date: October 08, 2012; Accepted October 17, 2012; Published Date: October 19, 2012

Citation: Sreedharan J, Antony A, Qureshi S, Fazal S, Siddiqui H, et al. (2012) Media Influence on the Body Image Among Students in UAE. J Community Med Health Educ 2:182. doi: 10.4172/2161-0711.1000182

Copyright: © 2012 Sreedharan J, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Objectives: This study intended to determine the degree of influence of the media on the body image of students in the United Arab Emirates.
Materials and methods: This cross-sectional survey collected data from 372 school and college students residing in UAE (129 males, 243 females) using a self-administered questionnaire. The data collected included sociodemographic characteristics, height, weight, social factors, and influence of different media on perceived body image. Data was entered on Microsoft Excel and analyzed on PASW 18.0 version using chi-square test for association and data presented as descriptive statistics.
Results: Twenty eight percent of the study group reported media to be the most influential factor on perception of appearance, of which internet was found to be the most influential medium (47.3% males and 42% females) on body image, followed by television (31% males and 37% females). Media were not as important as “attitude of family” (37.4%), “attitude of the opposite sex” (36.9%) or “attitude of friends/peers” (34.7%) which ranked highest among the most influencing factors. Media were considered moderately influencing (37.4%), with the other factors having almost equal importance. Media had effect only on the emotional and cognitive aspects. It was found that no single factor among the tested influential factors had a great impact on the body image of the youth of UAE, though there were several moderately influencing factors of almost equal importance. The overweight participants considered media to have ‘strong influence’ (p<0.06) which was not statistically significant.
Conclusion: Peers, family, and those of opposite gender were found to have more influence on body image than media. However, internet was the most influential media for both males and females and so may be used for educating all the influential persons in this regard.


Media; Perception of body image; Youth


Media play a major role in an individual’s life, environment and communication with others. Whether it is via television, radio, news articles or the internet, one is inundated with information on a daily basis, and this information can either contribute to the physical and intellectual growth of that individual, or prove detrimental. This overload of information has probably the greatest impact on young minds that are surrounded by various technological tools that give rapid access to information. One of the significant influences that media exert on youngsters would be on their body image, the subjective concept of one’s physical appearance based on self-observation and reactions of others [1]. It has two components: perceptions of the appearance of one’s body, and emotional responses to them.

Body image can be described as how individuals see themselves when looking at their reflection, or when picturing themselves in their mind, and their ideas about their body, such as height, shape, weight and age. A positive body image is highly necessary to maintain mental health and thus physical health and well-being [2,3]. Advertisements are a form of communication intended to persuade people to purchase or take some action on products, ideas or services [4]. They include the name of a product or service and how that product or service could benefit the consumer, to persuade a target market to purchase or to consume that particular brand. Advertising can also serve to communicate an idea to a large number of people in an attempt to convince them to take a certain action [4].

The media today constantly bombard us with a “thin ideal” and how we can alter our body image to apparently enhance our lifestyle. Adolescent boys and girls constantly struggle with perception of ideal and perfect body image which could compromise their self-esteem and development. There are several studies and surveys done in past years that have successfully demonstrated the contribution of media in the prevalence of eating and shape-related disorders. Movies, television shows and commercials frequently comment on the appearance of women and girls: 58% of female characters in movies, 28% in television shows and 26% of the female models in the accompanying commercials commented on female appearance [5].

It is estimated that about 9,000 people admitted to hospitals in USA were diagnosed with bulimia in 1994 according to the latest available statistics, and about 8,000 were diagnosed with anorexia. In a study on fifth graders, 10 year old girls and boys reported dissatisfaction with their own bodies after watching a music video by Britney Spears or a clip from the TV show “Friends”. One in every three (37%) articles in leading teen girl magazines included a focus on appearance, and most of the advertisements (50%) used an appeal to beauty to sell their products [6].

“Media images that help to create cultural definitions of beauty and attractiveness are often acknowledged as being among those factors contributing to the rise of eating disorders.” The message that “thin is in” aids to create the background for people to place a value on the size and shape of their body and the media have power over development of self-esteem and body image [7].

In this context this research assessed the degree of media influence on the body image and its determinants among students in the UAE. Such understanding can help doctors formulate awareness campaigns to protect the youth from the adverse effects of media on body image and reduce the negative effects on health and social life.

Materials and Methods

A cross-sectional survey among students residing in the UAE in the age group 15-28 years attending educational institutions was conducted in two high school campuses in Sharjah and one medical university in Ajman. The data was collected using a validated, pilot tested, self-administered questionnaire with close-ended questions to obtain information on demographic data such as age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, height, weight, exposure to the media and influence on perception of body appearance. In the present study media refers to various means of communication like television, internet, radio, and the print media [3].

The research was conducted after obtaining approval from the ethics committee of the Gulf Medical University. With the permission of the institutional heads, researchers approached the students and explained the objectives of the study. Those who consented verbally completed and returned the questionnaires. The data collected were coded and entered into a Microsoft Excel Sheet. Body Mass Index (BMI) was calculated from the reported height and weight. The data was transferred to PASW version 18.0, analysed using descriptive statistics and chi square test for significant association.


A total of 372 students participated in the study (Figure 1). There were 129 males and 243 females (Table 2) from the age group 15 to 28 years. Table 1 describes the sample based on age, nationality, religion, and BMI. The largest age group was of 15-17 years; South Asians were the largest group in terms of country of origin; most were Muslims. The major part of the sample (54%) fell into the normal range of BMI.


Figure 1 shows the degree of exposure to various media by gender. Among the 372 participants 97.7% males and 93.8% females were exposed to the Internet; 90.7% males and 91.4% females to television; 78.3% males and 68.3% females to radio; 61.2% males and 74.1% females to print. More males and females were maximum exposed to internet, followed by television. Males were least exposed to print (61.2%) and females to radio (68.3%)
Figure 1: The degree of exposure to various media by gender.

Variables Group No %
Age in years (n=372) 15-17 145 39.0
  18-20 90 24.2
  21-23 54 14.5
  24-26 61 16.4
  27-28 22 5.9
Country of origin(n=372) UAE 19 5.1
  Arab Expatriate 39 10.5
  South Asians 263 70.7
  Far East 6 1.6
  African 21 5.6
  Central Asian 4 1.1
  Western 18 4.8
Religion (n=371) Muslim 225 60.5
  Christian 46 12.4
  Hindu 87 23.4
  Other 11 3
BMI (n=372) <18.5 (I) 66 17.7
  18.5-24.9 (II) 201 54.0
  25.0-29.9 (III) 66 17.7
  >30 (IV) 24 6.5
Age in years (n=372) 15-17 145 39.0
  18-20 90 24.2
  21-23 54 14.5

Table 1: Distribution of the study sample according to age, nationality, religion and BMI

Programs Degree of influence (percentage)
No Moderate Most
    No % No % No %
Television Males 17 13.2 69 53.5 40 31.0
  Females 51 21.0 100 41.2 90 37.0
Radio Males 64 49.6 47 36.4 15 11.6
  Females 158 65 60 24.7 20 8.2
Newspapers and Magazines Males 44 34.1 53 41.1 28 21.7
  Females 68 28.0 101 41.6 69 28.4
Internet Males 29 22.5 35 27.1 61 47.3
  Females 59 24.3 78 32.1 102 42

Table 2: Degree of influence of each medium by gender.


Body image affects both physical and mental health of youth and is greatly influenced by the social environment. It is not clear how the current information explosion affects the body image of today’s youth. Therefore, a comparison was made between exposure to different kinds of media in the two genders and their impact on body image (Tables 2 and 3). It was found that almost all the students of both genders were most exposed to the internet followed by television. Internet was also found to be the most influential media on ideas about body appearance among the study group, followed by television. This finding is similar to the findings of a study conducted in the UK, France and Germany, which found that internet was significantly more influential than any other form of media [8]. These authors also found that the internet was twice more influential than television. However, we found that the internet was only a little more influential than television among the study sample. This could be because of the small sample size. This suggests that internet may be an effective medium to convey messages to the youth considering its degree of influence and the amount of exposure to it. Television is also a good medium as it was found to be the second-most influential for ideas on body appearance, as well as being the second-most used medium.

Statements Agree Neutral Disagree
Impact on perspective of body No % No % No %
Influenced to compare own body with others 211 56.7 97 26.1 62 16.7
Exercise more to get an ideal figure 145 39.0 107 28.8 120 32.3
Emphasis of flawless image annoying 141 37.6 113 30.4 117 31.5
Looks more important than character in being popular 172 46.3 109 29.3 87 23.4
Looks more important than character in being loved 127 44.2 99 26.6 144 38.7
Feel satisfied about weight 111 29.8 95 25.5 166 44.6
Looks more important than character in being accepted 53 14.3 152 40.9 167 44.9
Thin looks are more important than intelligence in becoming successful 119 32 110 29.6 142 38.2
Correctly portrays average female body image. 92 24.7 100 26.9 179 48.1
Ability to match up to the ideal body image as portrayed by the media 79 21.3 138 37.1 152 40.9
Try and follow as many of the current fashion trends to enhance body image 88 23.7 132 35.5 148 39.8
Inspires to go on crash diets and celebrity dieting fads 97 26.1 119 32 153 41.1
Feel happy about facial appearance 82 22 94 25.3 194 52.2
Correctly portrays the average male body image. 96 25.8 150 40.3 125 33.6

Table 3: Frequency of responses to influence of media on different aspects of body image.

Media seemed to have the most effect on the emotional aspect of body image, with a considerable proportion compelled to compare their body with others, and found the media emphasis on the body ‘annoying’, and felt dissatisfied about their weight. However, most were neutral about the media making them feel satisfied about facial appearance. Regarding the cognitive aspect of body image, most participants agreed on the impact of media on their body image, and it made them think that looks are more important than character in being popular in society, but approximately half of the participants disagreed that looks were more important than character in ‘being loved’ and more than a third in ‘being accepted’. Almost half disagreed that ‘looks’ were more important than intelligence in ‘being successful’. More than a third disagreed that they were able to match up to the ideal figures portrayed by the media. In terms of the behavioral aspect, most agreed that they were compelled to exercise more by the media, but disagreed that it made them resort to devotedly following fashion trends and diets to better their image. Most participants disagreed that the media accurately portrayed the average female figure, though they were neutral about the male figure.

According to a study conducted by Delamater [9] in US media were the most influential aspect determining the body image among women in contrast to our study. The study concludes that the attitude of the family to be the most influential entity regarding body image. Among the factors affecting body image considered in the present study, none was perceived to be ‘very influencing’ but some were ‘moderately influencing’; and among them the attitude of family was the factor that was most important, followed by culture and upbringing. The US study [10] showed that media caused females to have distorted body images leading to lower self esteem, depression, guilt and unattractiveness towards themselves. Our study also agrees with the fact that media makes people feel dissatisfied about their body and annoys them by depicting unattainable body figures, making them compare their body with others and make them approach practices such as exercising more, but many do not prefer to resort to crash diets and slavishly follow fashion trends in an attempt to make themselves appear ideal. However, they disagreed that media made them think that looks were more important than character and intelligence, in being loved, successful and accepted in the society (Table 4).

Factor Influence
  No Moderate Most
  No % No % No %
Attitude of friends/peers 96 25.8 145 39.0 129 34.7
Attitude of family 78 21.0 153 42.1 139 37.4
Attitude of strangers 162 43.5 131 35.2 77 20.7
Attitude of opposite sex 114 30.6 119 32 136 36.9
Education 97 26.1 164 44.1 108 29.1
Moral and religious values 128 34.4 135 36.3 106 28.5
Culture 112 30.1 151 40.6 107 28.8
Upgrading 95 25.5 152 40.9 123 33.1
Media 127 34.1 139 37.4 104 28.0

Table 4: Perceived influence of various factors on body image.

Another study conducted in US by Sparhawk [11] inferred that media did not necessarily affect the subjects’ perception of themselves but made them feel unattractive and having preoccupation about their looks. Our study agrees with it, since we found in our target group that perception was not affected, but the feelings of an individual towards his body appearance was more or less affected by media norms.

A one year prospective study in US in 1996-97 among 6770 girls and 5287 boys between 9 and 14 years of age who completed questionnaires found that media and family influences were important in body image, but peer influence was negligible [11].

The drive to be thin is seen more in the West. Plumpness is traditionally considered attractive and is associated with fertility and caring in many non-Western countries and there is a positive relationship between increased body weight and higher social class [12].

High school Arab populations in Israel, except the Circassian showed strong Western influence in their attitude towards eating and body image and are likely to have similar patterns of eating disorders in future [13]. A collective study inferred that overweight people felt more and more vulnerable to the media norms of ‘thin and in’ and that they resorted to extreme behaviors and in agreement with it our study found that people with greater BMI had been extremely prone to the thin ideals of the media [14].

The incidental sampling, inherent limitations of cross sectional survey, the limited number of educational institutions included, and the inclusion of just two emirates of the UAE, limit the generalization of the results. However the study helps us to understand the cognitive aspects of body image in an era of media explosion. The behavioral aspects could not be studied.


Moderately influencing factors for body image were education, family and peer attitudes, culture and upbringing among the youth under study. Media ranked highest in the weak influencing factors. Among the different types of media internet was the most influential medium, ranking the highest for both males and females. Thus it could be considered a very effective medium in conveying relevant messages to the youth.


We wish to express our warm and sincere thanks to all participants who gave us their precious insightful feelings and the institutional authorities for the permission to conduct the study.


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