December 05, 2019
1 min read

Social media use associated with disordered eating among young adolescents

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Simon W. Wilksch

Researchers have reported a “clear pattern of association” between social media use and disordered eating thoughts and behaviors. Associations occur at younger ages than previously investigated, they noted in a study published in International Journal of Eating Disorders.

“Disordered eating and social media use are both very common in young adolescent girls and boys,” Simon M. Wilksch, PhD, senior research fellow in psychology at Flinders University in Australia, told Healio Psychiatry. “Our study suggests that social media use is clearly associated with increased disordered eating thoughts and behaviors for both girls and boys.”

Wilksch and colleagues collected data from 996 adolescents in grades 7 and 8. They determined disordered eating thoughts using the Eating Disorder Examination-Questionnaire (EDE-Q) and behaviors using the Project Eating Among Teens questionnaire. To determine social media usage, they used items from previous body image research in adolescents related to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr.

Nearly 52% of girls and 45% of boys reported disordered eating behaviors. Strict exercise and meal skipping were the most common, the researchers noted. Approximately 75% of girls and 70% of boys had at least one social media account. Instagram was the most common, with 68.1% of girls and 61.7% of boys reporting use. Girls and boys with each type of social media account had significantly higher global EDE-Q scores, except for girls with Facebook and Instagram accounts. Participants with a greater number of social media accounts had higher disordered eating scores for both behaviors and thoughts. Boys with Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram and girls with Snapchat and Tumblr had higher rates of both disordered eating behaviors and over-evaluation of weight and shape in the clinical range. Girls who spent more daily time using Instagram had higher Global EDE-Q scores and disordered eating behaviors, and those with more Snapchat use had higher rates of disordered eating behaviors.

“Although they don't prove causation, the findings do indicate a clear relationship between social media and disordered eating,” Wilksch said. “Parents need to be aware of the risks of social media, while health professionals and educators need to assist young people to become resilient to the pressure social media can convey.” – by Joe Gramigna

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.