Strong positive association between social media use and eating concerns

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Health

Eating disorders can cause abnormal eating behaviors, such as obsession with food, body weight, and body shape. They have become an important health issue in the United States, especially in adolescents and young adults.

Compared with eating disorders, eating concerns are more common. It is easy to see people who have a negative or altered body image and dissatisfied with their body.

Many factors can lead to eating concerns, including biological, psychological, intrapersonal and environmental influences. For example, reading fashion magazine and watching fashion TV shows are environmental factors and are associated with negative feelings about one’s body.

Social media sites, such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, facilitate visual interaction with peers and may be linked to the increased risk of eating concerns.

However, most studies in this field have focused on a specific platform and a specific group (e.g., college students, women, and people with eating disorders), and the relation between the broader use of social media and eating concerns in a general population is still unclear.

In a study recently published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers addressed this issue. They invited 1765 young adults aged 19 to 32 years to finish online questionnaires.

The questionnaires about eating concerns included statements like “food dominates me” and “My weight negatively affects the way I feel about myself”. Participants gave answers using a 5-point scale (from “definitely no” to “definitely yes”).

The questionnaires about social media use required participants to estimate how much time they spent on social sites every day and how often they used the main social sites. Researchers also collected participants’ sociodemographic variables, such as race, sex, household income, and relationship status.

The result showed that there were strong positive association between social media use and eating concerns: when people spent longer time on social media, their eating concerns were greater; and when people used social media more frequently, they had more eating concerns.

Researchers suggest that people who use more social media may be exposed to more images (e.g., Instagram and Pinterest) and messages (e.g., Twitter) that increase eating concerns. In addition, people often use Facebook to compare themselves to others, and this may increase body image concerns.

In the future, research will focus on how specific features of social media use can influence eating concerns, such as whether people use the sites alone or with peers.


Citation: Sidani JE, Shensa A, Hoffman B, Hanmer J, Primack BA. (2016). The Association between Social Media Use and Eating Concerns among US Young Adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, pii: S2212-2672(16)30110-1. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.03.021.
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