Dieting Young People's Dieting Behaviors and Biases Thesis

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Young People's Dieting Behaviors & Biases:

The Undeniable Effects of a Strong Social Network

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Paradoxically the onslaught of electronically enabled social networks is revealing how essential family and friend-based connections are to sustaining the mental health of young people who go on extreme diets to fit in socially and project competence. There is compelling empirical evidence to suggest that the weaker the in-person social networks an adolescent has, the greater the risk of extreme dieting (French, Story, Downes, Resnick, Blum, 1995). Studies suggest that when a young person is not accepted in their family they resort to austere and exceptional measures of dieting to fit into peer and referent groups (French, Perry, Leon, Fulkerson, 1994). Social networks including the immediate and extended family are the greatest influences on a young-person's self-concept and therefore also define their propensity to participate in healthy or unhealthy behaviors (Kansi, Wichstrom, Bergman, 2003). Dieting is essential for anyone to stay healthy and minimize exceptional stress on their body and its systems. Yet young people often are faced with the paradox of wanting to have physiques that instantly communicate athleticism and extreme fitness yet are barraged with fast food marketing and high calorie meals. The net result is that many of the world's young people are overweight (Bennett, 2009). A lack of real social connectedness just exacerbates the peer pressure extreme dieting is often the result (French, Story, Downes, Resnick, Blum, 1995). Strengthening immediate and extended social networks also is critical for dieting efforts to succeed.

The Myth of Radical Individualism in Young People

TOPIC: Thesis on Dieting Young People's Dieting Behaviors & Biases: Assignment

We are a society that deeply cherishes our freedom. Add in the fact that the profile of Americans defined through the use of the five dimensions of the Cultural Dimensions Model (Hofstede, 1998) and the picture becomes complete of a society that really does see greater value in rugged individualism than the more collaborative, mutually dependent societies of Asia or the Middle East. In this paradox is the essence of why extreme dieting on the part of young people seems so counter to the clear message from the Hofstede Cultural Dimensions Model of America being an "I don't care what you think" society. In fact young people, even in the most freedom-loving and highly defined cultures of individualism still rely more on their peers and their opinions than even their own. Immediate and extended family networks are the greatest contributor to a young person, from childhood to adolescent and 20-somethings having confidence or not than any other factor (Dohnt, Tiggemann, 2006). Yet even with the strongest social networks connecting immediate and extended families to their children, adolescents and young people, the pressure to be exceptionally thin and perceived as attractive is one of the heaviest burdens that children, especially girls and young women, carry through their first two decades of life (Mooney, Farley, Strugnell, 2004). When the statistics of extreme dieting are evaluating even for those children who are from relatively strong social networks (French, Story, Downes, Resnick, Blum, 1995) a fundamental truth emerges and that is young people diet to an extreme as it makes them appear more competent and less isolated. It is an indeed a myth that young people are radical nonconformists and individualists; they are actually part of a segment of their peer group that greatly values those attributes and use that to bond together and create more congruency and alignment of their values. The irony of the rugged individualist and nonconformist child is that is the badge of honor to gain access to social group's most respected and most critical for them to have a sense of belonging when their family networks falter or fail them.

For further evidence of this dynamic and the equating of thin, athletic figures and carefully coiffed appearances, skin treatments of botox and plastic surgery all communicating competence, one only need to look to the culture of Argentina (Ballve, 2006). Argentina is in many respects like a young person seeking to find its identity and centering on the competitive and competency aspects of appearance as a means to do that. Argentina's economy went through a depression in the late 20th century, and as a result many in the nation lost a sense of national identity. In place of this void Argentina began to emulate many of the European ideals of appearance, body image, and appearance-altering treatments including extreme dieting, botox and the onset of eating disorders (Herscovici, Bay, 1996). It became common for girls as young as 13 to seek breast implants or breast augmentation and for native Indian girls, whose high carbohydrate diets and genetic background made them short and husky for centuries, to seek radical new ways to change their physical appearance (Ballve, 2006). The net effect of all this was that appearance became the new proxy for competency in their culture and the more critical needs of generating intellectual leaders in key areas began to languish as a result. The country, like a young person fixating only on appearance, began to concentrate on all manner of changing appearance to the exclusion of the more critically innate values of intellectual development and cognitive growth (Nunes, Barros, Olinto, Camey, Mari, 2003). Allegorically the temporary loss of Argentina's identity as a result of its financial crisis (Ballve, 2006) can be equated to the stress young people feel when their own immediate and extended family social networks reduce the level of support provided (French, Story, Downes, Resnick, Blum,1995). In the absence of that support, both from a personal and from a national basis as can be seen from the Argentinean example (Ballve, 2006) competence is seen as being earned vs. being an attribute one already has (French, Perry, Leon, Fulkerson, 1994). The net result is that dieting goes beyond maintaining a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) (Bennett, 2009) to becoming more of a proxy for compensating for the lack of support immediate and extended social networks provide over time.

Ironically, the strength of independence any young person feels is directly proportional to the level of support they get from their immediate and extended families. The role of social networks as a proxy or substitute for these connections has been continually debated (Bernoff, Li, 2008). Yet the reality is that social networks only amplify the connectedness or isolation that young people have in their lives. In effect social networks also enable those young people grappling with how to fit in to find more people like them. How all this relates to dieting is that the participation from an interest and psychographic standpoint in electronic social networks can increase connectedness, reduce isolation, and the propensity to use dieting as a proxy for communicating competency (French, Story, Downes, Resnick, Blum, 1995) (Ballve, 2006).

Dieting For Weight vs. Reputation Control

What's needed to navigate young people through these many pressures to use extreme, unhealthy dieting as a proxy for competency and attractiveness and towards a more realistic self-image is the creation of more cohesive immediate and extended social networks. The use of electronically enabled social networks has also proven highly beneficial in reducing the isolation of young people, specifically adolescents at risk of unhealthy behaviors (Bernoff, Li, 2008) yet it is not enough.

The effects of immediate and extended family networks therefore need to be cultivated for young people to have a more resilient self-image and diet responsibly for their health, less for their image. As research of this paradox indicates, the fact that young girls who lack immediate and extended family social network support are at the greatest risk of eating disorders (Dohnt, Tiggemann, 2006) further underscores the need for more focused outreach and education programs. What has emerged is a focus on diet and thinness as a means for reputation control. The connection between exceptionally thin physiques and competence occurring at a national level of Argentina (Ballve, 2006) happens in every developed nation globally. The illusion of the rugged individualist gives way to the young person, the majority of the time a girl, seeking to have a reputation for competence and an image of beauty that is never completely perfected. This leads in extreme cases to eating disorders (Dohnt, Tiggemann, 2006) at the worst and a continual questioning of ones' true strengths at best.

The duality of dieting that is occurring with many young people clusters at extremes as well. From the diets of fast food and high calorie meals that in the name of convenience sacrifice nutritional value to the unrealistic pressures and girls place themselves under to be unhealthfully thin, a point of moderation is needed. To create awareness and action of the surrounding immediate and extended family networks for young girls, greater education is needed.

The Critical Need for Awareness through Education

The immediate social networks that young people are members of, specifically girls, need to be made aware of the critical role they play in the development of confidence and self-acceptance. The fact that empirically based, statistically sound research indicates that without a solid social network of immediate and extended… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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