Is social media leading to eating disorder epidemic?

Social media is again being blamed for a psychic problem. More strongly and more definitively this time. So we did this fact check.

social-media-anoxeriaBefore going into the subject per se, let's be clear that 'eating disorders' we discuss in this context are not related to digestion but the way we eat: eating too much in one sitting, controlling one's eating to stay thin, eating in spurts, eating too much and purging, and so on. These are psychological in nature.

Research finds, social media is raising eating disorders and image concerns

Earlier research had almost proved that people are influenced by what they see on traditional visual media - films and television, advertisements and fashion magazines. A California State University project paper on eating disorders almost sums it up.

But now more and more studies prove that social media is leading to such problems on a large-scale. In addition to showing up stereotype images of thin people, social media amplifies the impact as people now discuss the matter online and compare with friends and others who are much closer to a distant model or film heroine.

A Pittsburgh university study on social media's role in eating disorders finds that irrespective of gender, people are affected by the link between social media and eating and body image concerns.

The study sampled 1765 US adults of 19-32 years. It found that people who spent the most time on social media throughout the day were 2.2 times more prone to eating disorders and body image concerns (i.e. finding dissatisfaction with their bodies and having a negative image about their own bodies) than others. Participants who checked social media frequently throughout the week reported 2.6 times more propensity for such disorders than others.

UK parents worried about teens starving themselves due to social media influence

This article on eating disorders is a commentary on how such disorders are growing in the UK, leading to a jump in the number of teenagers being admitted to hospitals with eating disorders in recent years. 'Thinspiration' websites (that encourage people to become thin) are blamed for hooking girls and young women to become thin and maintain a very thin body. 

In a new form of the disorder, anoxeria or starving to look thin does not express itself in a form of social disorder; one adjusts with being thin and silently invites health problems for oneself. The author of this article, an anoxeric herself before she recovered, says: They glamorize anorexia, they promote photogenic waif-like models and starvation, and ignore the breadth and misery of eating disorders. Anorexia is not photogenic or glamorous, not from the inside. I was anorexic for more than ten years. When I started at Oxford University aged 19, I weighed around nine stone and was happy, healthy and well-adjusted. When I left, aged 21, I weighed around five stone. None of the myths around anorexia applied: I did not dislike my body, and never had done. I did not think I looked fat, or wear skimpy clothes, or even look in the mirror much. I had declared war on myself.

The article warns: Every parent and teacher needs to know that “thinspiration” sites are dangerous. ... Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, more deadly than schizophrenia. One in five anorexics will die, either from physical complications or suicide. With anorexia, these include infertility, amenorrhea (cessation of periods), loneliness and depression; bulimia can lead to kidney and heart problems as well as electrolyte imbalance. Osteoporosis (low bone density) is an invisible but growing problem among young women who avoid calcium-rich dairy products such as milk and cheese – and up to 90 per cent of anorexics show some degree of bone loss.

Weaning youth away from anoxria blogging

This article in the Telegraph, UK, delves into the life of an anorexia blogger, one who writes posts on being thin without taking it as a disorder. Such 'pro-ana' blogs insist that anoxeria is not a disorder but a lifestyle choice.

This US report talks about a victim of social media influence towards anoxeria who was rehabilitated and how empowered she feels after that.

NEDA, a prominent non-profit organization of the US in the area of tackling eating disorders says, The effect of media on women’s body dissatisfaction, thin ideal internalization, and disordered eating appears to be stronger among young adults than children and adolescents. This may suggest that long-term exposure during childhood and adolescence lays the foundation for the negative effects of media during early adulthood.

Another disorder, called orthorexia, seems to be developing - the fad for healthy eating. It becomes a disorder because people do not stop at just eating good food, they feel worried about obesity and their bodies not being perfect, shun all non-healthy food, and exercise too much.

Also relevant:
Facebook reduces well-being? Social media leads to less charity?
Social media causes depression among celebrities?