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Craving for popularity on Facebook may be associated with eating disorders

Harold Mandel's picture
Facebook and eating disorders

Facebook has become the most unusual and hottest internet phenomenon of this era, but there may be some health hazards associated with this phenomenon. The billions upon billions of dollars in profits for Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has minds dazzled across the USA and worldwide, as new dimensions in entrepreneurship and wealth creation become real due to the high tech revolution. Although many of the anxieties associated with the Facebook phenomenon generally appear to spark off positive drives which are good for your mental health, nevertheless some health problems appear to be associated with letting emotions get out of control on Facebook.

Social media sites, such as Facebook, have merged together two factors which influence risk for eating disorders, media and peers, reported the International Journal of Eating Disorders. In previous studies some associations between Facebook use and disordered eating have been identified. Researchers set out to replicate and extend these findings using an experimental design for this study.

The first study was set up by having 1, 960 women complete self-report surveys dealing with Facebook use and disordered eating. In the second study 84 women were randomly assigned to use Facebook or to use an alternate internet site for 20 minutes. It was found that more frequent Facebook use was associated with increased disordered eating in a cross-sectional survey.

Facebook was found to be associated with the maintenance of weight/shape concerns and a general state of anxiety in comparison to an alternate activity on the internet. It was concluded that Facebook use may contribute to disordered eating by maintaining a risk factor for eating pathology. Therefore, targeting Facebook use is seen as possibly being helpful in intervention and prevention programs.

Hunger for likes and anxiety over Facebook photos may be linked to eating disorders, reports the International Journal of Eating Disorders in a discussion of this research. Facebook has become a phenomenon across the world and an active space for social comparison. It has been observed that with the increase in use of technology, there is a positive correlation with lower body image in young women.

In the new study which has been published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, female college students were evaluated regarding the time they spend on social media sites, how important “likes” are, and whether or not they generally untag photos of themselves. Dr. Pamela K. Keel said, “Over 95 percent of college women in our study use Facebook, and those with Facebook accounts described typically spending 20 minutes on the site during each visit, amounting to over an hour on the site each day.”

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It was observed that women who spent more time on Facebook reported experiencing a higher incidence of appearance-focused behaviors and they also reported greater eating pathology. These women were more likely to:

1: Give greater significance to receiving comments and “likes” on status updates

2: Frequently untag pictures of themselves

3: Compare their photos to friends

Keel said, “In examining the immediate consequences of Facebook use, we found that 20 minutes of Facebook use contributed to maintenance of higher weight and shape concerns and anxiety compared to a control internet condition." This causal association is significant because anxiety and body image concerns both increase the risk for developing eating disorders, according to Keel.

However, this does not mean Facebook should be done away with. In fact it has been suggested that Facebook could possibly become a maintenance factor for prevention programs. The primary goal is to encourage women to develop better self-images and to practice responsible use of Facebook and other social media sites.

These researchers highlight that Facebook merges powerful peer influences with broader societal messages which focus on the significance of women's appearance into a single platform which women carry with them during the entire day. Greater attention is now needed to the emerging role of social media in the lives of young people as researchers and clinicians attempt to better understand and address risk factors for eating disorders.

An awareness of the possibility of increased eating disorders in some women who use Facebook should encourage physicians and other health care providers to keep this consideration in mind when dealing with patients. Understanding the possibilities of sharing positive psychological messages on Facebook and other social media sites to help women overcome this problem should encourage health care interests to share these positive views online. A focus on this approach leaves us with the possibility of using Facebook and other social media sites as positive therapeutic tools instead as together we seek to overcome the possible negative emotional effects which are sometimes experienced from socializing online.