Is Greater Social Media Use Associated With A Higher Risk Of Eating Disorders?

A study done by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine discovered the more often a person logs into social media and the more time spent throughout the week trolling social media feeds, the greater the risk of a young adult developing eating and body image concerns.

The Study

Age, race, income and gender did not influence the association between social media use and frequency; the study discovered that all demographic groups were affected equally. The results of the study were reported in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and it was funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Lead study author, Jaime E. Sidani, Ph.D, M.P.H, and assistant director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health said, “We’ve long known that exposure to traditional forms of media, such as fashion magazines and television, is associated with the development of disordered eating and body image concerns, likely due to the positive portrayal of ‘thin’ modems and celebrities.”

She further stated, “Social media combines many of the visual aspects of traditional media with the opportunity for social media users to interact and propagate stereotypes that can lead to eating and body image concerns.”
Dr. Sidani and her colleagues sampled information from 1,765 American adults between the ages of 19 and 32 years of age in 2014. The team used questionnaires to determine a participant’s social media use. The questionnaire asked about the 11 most popular social media platforms at the time: Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Vine and Pinterest.

The team cross-referenced those results with the results of another questionnaire which used established screening tools to assess the person’s risk of an eating disorder.

Eating disorders include bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder and other clinical and mental health issues with which a distortion of body image and eating were associated. These issues were disproportionately affecting adolescents and young adults. However, body dissatisfaction, more general disordered eating, and a negative or distorted body image is likely affecting a broader group of individuals.
The study participants who spent the most time on social media sites throughout the day had a 2.2 times greater risk of reporting an eating and body image problem, when compared to peers who spent less time on social media. Participant who reported most frequently checking social media throughout the week had 2.6 times the risk, when compared to those who checked less frequently.


Senior study author Brian A. Primack, M.D. Ph.D., and assistant vice chancellor of health and society at Pitt’s School of the Health Services noted that the information could not determine whether social media usage was contributing to eating and body image issues or vice versa, or both.
Dr. Sidani said, “More research is needed in order to develop effective interventions to counter social media content that either intentionally or unintentionally increases the risk of eating disorders in users.

We suggested studies that follow users over time and seek to answer the cause-and-effect questions surrounding social media use and risk for eating and body image concerns.”

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