Can Facebook lead to eating disorders?
Those who spend more time on Facebook might be at greater risk of eating disorders, according to a new study from Florida State University. The research, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, is believed to be the first of its kind to prove that time spent on the social media website reinforces women’s concerns about weight and shape, and can lead to increased anxiety.
“Facebook provides a fun way to stay connected with friends, but it also presents women with a new medium through which they are confronted by a thin ideal that impacts their risk for eating disorders,” said lead study author and psychology professor Pamela Keel in a statement.
Keel, along with co-authors Annalise Mabe and K. Jean Forney, studied 960 college women and discovered that increased time on Facebook was associated with greater levels of disordered eating. Those who were more concerned with receiving comments and “likes” on their updates, were more likely to “untag” photos of themselves, and frequently compared their pictures to pictures of others reported the highest levels of this condition.
Studies have previously shown the impact of peer influences and traditional media on risk for eating disorders. The Florida State researchers believe Facebook combines these two factors, a potentially bad combination for many women.
“Now it’s not the case that the only place you’re seeing thin and idealized images of women in bathing suits is on magazine covers,” Keel said. “Now your friends are posting carefully curated photos of themselves on their Facebook page that you’re being exposed to constantly. It represents a very unique merging of two things that we already knew could increase risk for eating disorders.”
Keel believes this research may lead to interventions that can reduce risk factors for eating disorders, which she says are associated with the highest rates of mortality of any psychiatric illness.
“We know that peer factors have a significant influence,” she says “so understanding when and how peers do things that are unhelpful to one another gives us an important opportunity to protect and prevent.”
To young women on Facebook, Keel offers the following words of advice:
“Consider what it is you are pursuing when you post on Facebook. Try to remember that you are a whole person and not an object, so don’t display yourself as a commodity that then can be approved or not approved.”
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