Professor Jeremy Kees releases research findings of thin models and eating habits advertising study

VILLANOVA, PA, 06 August 2008—Three months after France banned “pro-anorexic” messages, new research by Villanova School of Business Marketing Professor Jeremy Kees and Karen Becker-Olsen of The College of New Jersey finds a definitive link between the use of thin models in advertising and women’s eating habits. The controlled study of 194 women ages 18-24 on two college campuses, finds that after seeing an ad featuring a thin model, young women are twice as likely to decline to eat a cookie or chose a low fat alternative.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that women feel worse about their bodies after seeing images of thin models, the researchers found that women prefer ads with thin models to those with models of more “normal” physiques.

In addition to offering cookies to women after they viewed ads with thin models, the researchers asked the study participants questions to determine their personal body esteem and “self monitoring” level – the level to which a person modifies her behavior to conform to social pressures. High self-monitors are more sensitive than low self-monitors to social cues that can trigger changes in behavior, such as advertising.

Professor Kees' key findings show that, when exposed to advertisements containing thin models (compared to women who saw ads without models):

  • All women (high and low self monitors) were more likely to choose reduced fat Oreos or opt for no cookie. Compared with those who saw advertisements without models, the women exposed to the models were nearly 4 times as likely to decline a cookie and 42% more likely to choose reduced fat cookies.
  • High self-monitoring women expressed more negative feelings about their attractiveness and weight than they expressed before seeing the models.
  • All women preferred the ads with the thin models. They also rated ads with thin models more favorably than those with “normal” sized models, and indicated that they are more likely to buy products that appear in ads with thin models.
  • Low self monitoring women did not change their feelings about personal attractiveness or weight. However, they reported feeling better about their body conditioning.

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