Social Media linked to Eating Disorders



If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder please reach out to the Eating Disorder Helpline. Call and text at (800) 931-2237 Monday—Thursday 11am—9pm ET Friday 11am—5pm ET.

Trigger warnings: Talks of weight, eating habits, body image, and eating disorders

What is an Eating Disorder? According to the American Psychiatry Association, eating disorders are described as “… behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions. They can be very serious conditions affecting physical, psychological, and social function. Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, other specified feeding and eating disorder, pica and rumination disorder.”

The study – While social media isn’t the only cause of eating disorders, it definitely doesn’t make it better for teens who are already struggling with body image and weight. The study looked at close to 1,000 middle school students and their use of four social media apps: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr. They noticed that when the kids spent more time on these apps, they were more likely to develop signs of eating disorders. The study has found that about 52% of girls and 45% of boys opt for skipping meals, heavy exercise, and other behaviors associated with eating disorders. Of all participants, about 75% of girls and 70% of boys have been found to have at least one social media account, with Instagram being the most common.

What the study proves – Teens and young adults focus a lot on their physical appearance and how they are perceived online. This makes them very conscious about body weight, body shape, calorie intake, and exercise. According to the study, these are the core psychological factors influencing distorted eating behavior.  A significantly higher susceptibility to develop eating disorder-related behaviors and over-thinking of body weight and shape was specifically observed for girls with Snapchat and Tumblr accounts and boys with Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram accounts.

Summary and the best ways for prevention –  Excessive use of social media may be associated with higher thoughts and behaviors related to eating disorders. The risk may be higher for teens and young adults who spend more time on social media and have accounts on multiple platforms. However, there are other factors that could potentially alter the eating behaviors of teens, including the influence of friends and family and diet plans followed at home. The National Eating Disorder collaboration stated,  “Research has shown that the most effective eating disorder prevention programs: Use a health promotion approach, focusing on building self-esteem, positive body image, and a balanced approach to nutrition and physical activity.“