Social media is a risk factor for eating disorders

Social media is a risk factor for eating disorders

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Negative effects of social media use on young people

Social media contributes to problems with one's own body image and related eating disorders in children and adolescents, according to a new study by Australian scientists.

The latest study by Flinders University and the University of Western Australia found that using social media in children and adolescents can contribute to eating disorders. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "International Journal of Eating Disorders".

Your own body image is changed

If children use platforms on the Internet that place a strong focus on uploaded images and their viewing (e.g. Snapchat and Instagram), this can help to change their own perceived body image and thus promote eating disorders.

Almost 1,000 young people were interviewed for the study

For the study, 996 adolescents were asked about their use of Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and Snapchat and their eating habits. 51.7 percent of the girls and 45 percent of the boys reported problems with eating disorders due to the desire to lose weight or avoid possible weight gain.

Most young people have at least one social media account

75.4 percent of the girls and 69.9 percent of the boys in the investigation had at least one social media account. Most of the time, the adolescents used Instagram, although half of the participants were younger than 13, the recommended minimum age for these social media platforms.

The number of social media accounts influenced the risk

The more social media accounts the interviewees had and the more time they spent with them, the greater the likelihood of developing disturbed behaviors in dealing with nutrition.

Adolescents often focus heavily on their looks

A key component of eating disorders prevention is the message that our self-esteem should be defined by a mix of our skills, values, and relationships. Social media seems to encourage young people to focus heavily on how they look and how others judge or perceive their looks.

We have to better protect our offspring

Given the clear correlation between eating disorders and social media use among adolescent girls and boys, more efforts should be made to better protect them from social media pressures.

Affected people can be helped

An existing program for the intelligent use of online media was able to reduce the risk of eating disorders in women aged 18 to 25 by 66 percent if they did not have an eating disorder at the start of the study, the researchers report. 75 percent of women suffering from eating disorders at the beginning of the program recovered from their illness through treatment.

The program also relieved depressive symptoms

A number of other risk factors also improved in the participating women, such as the likelihood of developing depressive symptoms and thoughts of self-harm. In the future, the program is to be extended to a broader age group and people of all genders, since identified problems with food intake are not limited to women.

Young people have to learn to deal better with social media

A key message of the program is that young people should get an idea of ​​how they want to deal with social media and how their media use fits their personal values. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Simon M. Wilksch, Anne O'Shea, Pheobe Ho, Sue Byrne, Tracey D. Wade: The relationship between social media use and disordered eating in young adolescents, in International Journal of Eating Disorders (query: 04.12.2019), International Journal of eating disorders

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