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Is bad body image genetic?

October 3rd 2012 / Emma Bartley

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As the Advertising Standards Authority bans the Six Weeks to OMG adverts, a study reveals that wanting to be thin may be genetic

It’s been a confusing day, and not just for those of us who skipped breakfast and did caffeine-fuelled exercise instead. First, the Advertising Standards Authority banned posters for Six Weeks to OMG, the diet I’ve been testing for my Size 13 column, after complaints that its tagline – “get skinnier than all your friends” – could encourage eating disorders in vulnerable individuals.

“We considered that the claim could act as a trigger for a number of individuals who lacked self confidence or had body image concerns, in that it could encourage them to compare their weight and appearance with their friends, or other people, and adapt their eating habits to try to lose weight regardless of whether or not their current Body Mass Index was deemed healthy,” said the ruling. The book’s publishers, Michael Joseph, have been told not to use the ads again in their current form and to be careful to target future publicity more carefully.

But just as the GTG office was starting to debate who these vulnerable individuals were – most teenagers we know have a highly developed sense of irony – we came across a study that says wanting to be thin could be genetic.

Researchers at Michigan State University questioned 340 female twins, both identical and non-identical, to find out whether body image was purely the result of environmental factors or if it could be genetically rooted. In particular they were considering whether the women, aged from 12 to 22, wanted to look like thin people they saw in films, on TV and in magazines. After assessing what they call “thin-ideal internalisation”, they believe that about 40 per cent of the desire to be slim is hereditary.

Are there really people out there who can’t walk past a printed poster on the Underground without succumbing to anorexia? Is it really because their brains are predisposed to see pictures of Kate Moss and want to emulate her? Am I one of those people?

It’s time for a light-headed lie down.

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