Watching TV makes viewers prefer thinner women, according to a new study of body image perceptions.
Researchers from Durham University studied 299 people living in remote Nicaraguan villages who either had regular or hardly any access to TV shows.
Those who had very limited access preferred female figures with a higher body mass index, while people who watched more shows favoured thinner women.
The Central American villagers were chosen as they had similar backgrounds in their nutrition, income and education, but had differing access to TV.
This meant researchers were able to isolate the effect of TV exposure from the other factors.
The researchers say the findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, offer the best evidence to date that TV is shaping perceptions of body ideals.
They say the representation of the thin ideal in the media can lead to body dissatisfaction and can play a part in the development of eating disorders and depression.
Professor Lynda Boothroyd, from Durham University’s Psychology Department, said: “TV and advertising bosses have a moral responsibility to use actors, presenters and models of all shapes and sizes and avoid stigmatising larger bodies.
“There needs to be a shift towards a ‘health at every size’ attitude and the media has an important role to play in that.”
The study authors said people living in this part of Nicaragua generally did not have access to magazines or the internet and none had a smartphone.
Only people with an electricity supply and money to pay for a subscription were able to regularly watch TV.
Those people watched a mixture of Latin soap operas, Hollywood action movies, music videos, police chase reality shows and the news.
Co-author Dr Jean-Luc Jucker, from Durham University and University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast, said: “This study, utilising a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods with non-Western participants, provides yet more empirical evidence that the mass media impact female body size ideals.”