Effects of Social Media on Eating Disorders

A large-scale survey research shows that the use of social media is associated with disordered eating behaviors. Specifically, image-based social media platforms, such as Instagram, have stronger impacts on eating disorders than non-image-based platforms such as LinkedIn.

There has been evidence that the increasing popularity of social media is disproportionately driven by image-centric social media platforms, that is, platforms that contain a high proportion of content that is image based, particularly images of people, relative to text or other content.

With that in mind, a group of researchers surveyed a total of 2,733 people in Australia and New Zealand, in an effort to determine whether, and to what extent, the frequency of use of various social media platforms is associated with body dissatisfaction, eating disorder symptoms, and thoughts about using anabolic steroids, among sexual minority men.

The researchers asked survey respondents to rate how frequently they used various forms of social media, namely, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter, LinkedIn, Twitter, WordPress, Pinterest, Flickr, and Blogspot. Researchers also asked participants to rate how frequently they used various forms of dating apps.

Based on the amount and prominence of imagery on each platform, the social media platforms were categorized as follows: image-centric (Facebook, Snapchat, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, and Tumblr) and non-image-centric (Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress, and Blogspot).

In measuring eating disorder symptoms, researchers asked respondents to indicate the frequency with which they have experienced various eating disorder symptoms during the past week (e.g., ‘‘On how many of the past 7 days have you tried to control your weight or shape by making yourself sick or taking laxatives?’’) using a 4-point response scale ranging from ‘‘0 days’’ to ‘‘6–7 days.’’

Statistical analysis of the survey responses shows that:

  • higher frequency of use of social media platforms, particularly Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, corresponded to greater body image concerns and eating disorder symptoms.
  • on average, the associations of social media use with eating disorder symptoms were stronger for image-centric social media platforms than for non-image-centric social media platforms.

Source consulted:

Scott Griffiths, Stuart B. Murray, Isabel Krug, and Sian A. McLean. 2018. The Contribution of Social Media to Body Dissatisfaction, Eating Disorder Symptoms, and Anabolic Steroid Use Among Sexual Minority Men. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Volume 21, Number 3, pp. 149-156.

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