Women unhappy about their bodies spend more time doing this, study finds

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Body dissatisfaction is a risk factor for eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and purging disorder.

It is also a key diagnostic symptom of anorexia nervosa. Women experiencing body dissatisfaction may be worsening it by spending more time looking at thinner body sizes.

In a study from the University of Bristol, scientists found women who are dissatisfied with their body shape spend more time looking at their thinner counterparts.

They tested nearly 3,000 women to understand more about risk factors for eating disorders and potential targets for new treatments.

Previous studies have found that women with high body dissatisfaction display an attentional bias towards low-weight bodies.

This is thought to exacerbate feelings of body dissatisfaction. However, until now, these findings have been inconsistent.

In the study, the team evaluated the results of 34 studies comprising 2,857 women who had participated in a range of attentional bias tasks to see whether those who were more dissatisfied with their own bodies directed more attention to thinner body shapes.

They found evidence for this positive association in women, but only for studies using gaze tracking as a measure of attentional bias.

Women with high body dissatisfaction, when compared to women with low body dissatisfaction, directed their gaze more frequently and for longer durations towards low-weight female body stimuli.

The team says these findings have implications for the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and suggest that interventions such as attention training tasks, which have been used to improve symptoms of anxiety, could be adapted to treat symptoms of eating disorders by shifting attention away from thin body sizes.

These types of tasks can be completed on a home computer, so they have the potential to be a practical and cost-effective treatment option for people with these disorders.

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The study was conducted by Thea House et al and published in Body Image.

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