Irish teenage girls' obsession with looking like pop divas Britney Spears or Posh Spice is leading to them to make unhealthy diet choices, according to University research.
A survey of 14 and 16 year olds in the Republic of Ireland found that they eat a restricted diet, based on low fat foods, in the quest to become skinny.
Cultural pressures such as the media and the fashion industry dictate that thinness equals feminine beauty, leading to many teenage girls becoming concerned with their body image.
Dr Chris Strugnell, senior lecturer in Consumer Sciences at the School of Hotel, Leisure and Tourism, who supervised the research, said: "Dissatisfaction with body image is associated with restrained eating and dieting practices, which can lead to nutritional inadequacies and certain negative psychological states. This has important implications for future health strategies."
Doctoral student Elaine Mooney, who conducted the research, will be presenting her findings at an international Consumer Science Congress in Kyoto, Japan, on August 2.
In interviews with teenagers in both urban and rural areas of the Republic she found that media celebrities are a major influence on how the young girls eat.
Typical quotes included: "If Britney Spears was fat no-one would buy her CDs" and "I've always been on some sort of diet since I was 12. Boys don't like fat girls".
Dr Strugnell added: "Body image concerns are prevalent among Irish female adolescents and a certain amount of short-term dieting is executed. More apparent however is that food choices are restricted for reasons of weight control with low fat food products being popular.
"The media and fashion industry have an influencing role with their promotion of ultra slim role models. A cause for concern is the ambiguity that exists between definitions of dieting versus healthy living".
Calling for urgent action to address the problem, Dr Strugnell said: "Nutritional health promotion specifically targeted at female adolescents is required to promote healthy eating habits and a positive body image".