Secret society encourages anorexia on Internet

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Anorexia Internet group
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Researchers have uncovered a secret pro-anorexia movement on the internet. Communication experts at University of Cincinnati report an emerging support network, Online Negative Enabling Support Group (ONESG), that embraces anorexia as a way of life rather than as an illness and encourages disordered eating that can be fatal.

The findings, published in the journal New Media & Society, reveals a pro-anorexia movement that lead author Stephen M. Haas, a UC associate professor of communication says promotes and encourages harmful and dangerous impulses using four themes that include "staying true to the anorexia movement", self-loathing, how to deal with family member who try to encourage healthy eating, and fostering intimacy among group member who refer to non-anorexics as "outsiders".

The authors write, “Embracing the ambivalence of self-loathing and self-encouragement is an important strategy because it illustrates the inner turmoil that resides within pro-anorexia participants." They note anorexics believe thinness will eliminate their feeling of self-worthlessness and they "cling" to the notion.

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The researchers discovered ONESG by searching anorexia focused public blogs and websites from October 2006 to May 2007. They say anonymity of the Internet makes it important to understand the negative impact of Online Negative Enabling Support Groups.

“By gaining deeper insight, we can potentially increase our efforts to help those whose online interactions revolve around ‘communicating thin,’” the authors write. Understanding the groups better could help save lives.

The researchers say social support groups site emerging on the Internet that encourage anorexia are believed to primarily include Caucasian women between the ages of 13 and 26. They also note it is important for families to know the secretive societies exist that can make it difficult to confront a loved one who has an eating disorder.

Source:
New Media and Society: doi: 10.1177/1461444810363910
"Communicating thin: A grounded model of Online Negative Enabling Support Groups in the pro-anorexia movement"
Stephen M. Haas, et al.
October, 2010

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