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Women Are Hard-Wired to Worry About Their Weight: Study

By Rosemary Black. Published by The Daily News.

Link to the original newspaper article.

Thoughts about body image and self-worth are linked in women's brains in a way that's different from men, a new study says.

Are women - but not men - hard-wired to be fat-phobes? Female brains react in a negative way when they view photos of overweight individuals, even when they're of a normal weight themselves, according to a study from Brigham Young University.

"Even though they claim they don't care about body issues … [women's] brains are showing that it really bugs them to think about the prospect of being overweight," study researcher Mark Allen, a neuroscientist, told Fox News.

For the study of 10 normal-weight women and 9 normal-weight men between age 18 and 30, both groups viewed images of people of their own gender with various body shapes. As the subjects viewed each image and their brains were scanned using functional MRI, they were told to "imagine someone is saying 'your body looks like hers/his.' "

The brain scans of the women who saw images of overweight individuals displayed a rise in activity in an area of the brain believed to be linked to self-reflection and the assessment of self-worth. When the women pictured themselves as slender, they did not have the same rise in brain activity.

Men showed no change in brain activity whether they imagined themselves thin or fat.

"These women have no history of eating disorders and project an attitude that they don't care about body image," Allen told the Daily Mail. "Yet under the surface is an anxiety about getting fat."

Women with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia may experience unhappiness and self-loathing upon viewing an overweight stranger, and they feel pressured to stay skinny.

Constantly getting bombarded with photos of starved-looking models and actresses may make women think that being skinny is best.

"Many women learn that bodily appearance and thinness constitute what is important about them, and their brain responding reflects that," psychologist Diane Spangler, Allen's fellow researcher, told the Daily Mail. "I think it is an unfortunate and false idea and does put one at greater risk for eating and mood disorders."


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