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Hot or Not: Reality TV can be harmful to women

The show "Are You Hot?" may trigger unhealthy habits

'Are You Hot?," the ABC reality show in which comely competitors submit to a panel of judges for appearance-rating, might not be so hot for young female viewers, says one eating disorders expert.

The more frequently young women watch the show, which seeks to crown the sexiest people in America, the more dissatisfied they are with their appearance and the more likely they are to resort to unhealthy weight control habits, says Randall Flanery, Ph.D., an associate professor of community and family medicine at Saint Louis University in Missouri.

"[The show] emphasizes that how you look is more important than who you are or what you do. It really narrows the worth of the individual," Flanery says. "The viewer identifies with the person being scrutinized, but at the same time can participate with the critics and make fun of the person. The net result is the viewer gets reinforced that appearance is the most important thing, and they are not measuring up."

Though female adolescents and young women are most prone to developing negative body images from shows like "Are You Hot?" they are exactly the individuals who tune into such shows and other potentially harmful media, says Flanery, who also runs an eating disorders program. "Those who we're most concerned about are going to watch it more and be most influenced by it," he said. "The more you're primed to look at those factors, the more they affect you."

A study recently published in the American Journal of Health and Educationshowed that women who read health and fitness magazines were significantly more likely to have practiced unhealthy weight control methods than were moderate or infrequent readers, says Steven Thomsen, Ph.D., the study's author and an associate communications professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Nearly 80 percent of frequent readers had induced vomiting, 73 percent had taken diet pills and 60 percent had used laxatives. And women who limited their daily caloric intake read health and fitness magazines more frequently than those who did not restrict their diets.

Flanery put the onus on young women's parents to be assertive and prohibit their daughters from watching "Are You Hot?" and similar programs. "They can counterbalance that distorted view of what's important and emphasize a healthy alternative message," he said. "You're more than what you look like."

"Are You Hot?" airs Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. on ABC. Eating Disorders Awareness week is February 23 - March 2.