Stress is strongly related to dysfunctional body image in adolescents, it has been found. But there is a gender difference in the causes that trigger such body-image-related stresses, says Ms. Kristen Murray, a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology with the Australian National University.
While the stress in young women could stem from peer pressure and school attendance, what's playing on the minds of young men are romantic relationships and uncertainty about the future.
The study, undertaken by Ms Murray as part of her Honours year with her supervisor Professor Don Byrne, surveyed more than 500 adolescents in grades 7 to 10 in schools across Canberra. The research suggests that the stress experienced by adolescents may induce feelings of depression and trigger deteriorations in self-esteem. That depression and low self-esteem may, in turn, contribute to negative feeling's regarding their own bodies.
"The stress associated with the challenges of adolescence is an important risk factor for mental health problems, but this is the first study to look at the role of stress in the development of poor body image," said Ms Murray.
"The research showed a strong relationship between stress and body image dissatisfaction, which was explained in part by reduced self-esteem and increased depressive symptoms for both females and males."
The researchers say that the results of the study will help inform programs aimed at preventing body image problems in young people.
"Because this is the first study to consider the role of stress in dysfunctional body image it offers new insight for programs designed to prevent or intervene in negative body image, especially in highlighting the unique processes and targets for females and males, to avoid the progression to more serious outcomes including eating disorders," said Ms Murray.