A new company formed at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center unveiled a website and iPhone app Wednesday aimed at combating negative body image and the chronic heath conditions it fosters among women.
Body Evolution Technologies Inc.’s website, http://www.emer.ge, and app, called The Body Image Voice, feature video testimonials, information, discussion forums and other resources to help women combat the daily barrage of media images that tell them there is something wrong with how they look, the founders said. Users can upload their own testimonials and provide feedback on media images and how they relate to body image.
Dr. Tiffany Stewart, cofounder, chief science officer of the company and director of Pennington’s Behavior Technology Laboratory on Eating Disorders and Obesity, said the media’s role in creating negative body image among women has been well-established though research. And negative body image plays a key role not only in severe conditions like anorexia and obesity, but also poor nutrition, severe dieting and avoidance of certain activities — sports, social events, job interviews — because of low self-esteem, she said. It even affects intimacy with others.
Hating your body, she told a group gathered at a press conference at Pennington Wednesday, does not produce healthy choices or a good quality of life.
“It seems basic, but science supports the idea that until we regard our bodies better, we won’t treat them better,” she said.
And the problem is pervasive.
“And you can ask anyone in this room, and if they’re honest, they’ll admit they have a body image problem,” said Stewart, who spent years as a clinical psychologist focusing on eating disorders and obesity.
Ross Barrett, of BVM Capital Partners, the venture capital firm that helped get Body Evolution Technologies going, said the exploding popularity of smartphones worldwide and ballooning middle classes in countries such as China and India make the company a promising investment.
While the app, which will be available in the coming months, will be free, the site and app can feature advertisements. The anonymous data collected will be immensely valuable to advertisers, publications and companies in a number of industries, Stewart said.
It also will provide valuable scientific insight to the psychology of advertising and body image issues. The feedback function includes a litany of carefully chosen descriptions of how certain ads make the viewer feel, Stewart said.
Stewart said the strength of the company’s product is that it leverages popular trends and technologies — the Web, smartphones, online communities linked with social media — and uses them to improve health outcomes.
Previous efforts have proven difficult to scale up, but the Web, smartphones and social media deliver the potential to reach billions globally and produce real change.
“It uses what is dominant in our culture to change it,” she said.
Asked what will draw people to use the website and app, Stewart said stories about body image and the media are popular discussion topics online and on talk shows.
And as perverse as it may sound, people are often more motivated by questions of appearance than of their own mortality.
“If I say, ‘You’re going to die,’ you don’t care. But if I say, ‘You’re not going to look good,’ you do,” she said.
Stewart pointed out a recent story about women losing weight for their weddings by using feeding tubes that garnered much discussion and showed the extremes people will go to just to feel like they look good.
College students are an initial target population, and Body Evolution Technologies is establishing partnerships with organizations focused on student health, such as Delta Delta Delta.
The sorority is an advocate and sponsor of body image programs for students, and its 15,000 active student members comprise a test population for new apps and games.
Dr. Steven Heymsfield, executive director of Pennington, said the creation of companies like Body Evolution Technologies is a key part of Pennington’s mission to combat chronic disease.
“We know that poor body image contributes to eating disorders, obesity and a host of other unhealthy practices and behaviors,” he said.
“Commercialization of technologies from the research taking place at Pennington Biomedical helps fulfill our mission of disease prevention across the lifespan.”