Disordered Eating Behaviours in Teen Social Media Users

A new study funded by Australian Rotary Health has found that using social media may be leading young adolescents towards body image issues and eating disorder behaviours.

In a recent article published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, a team of researchers at Flinders University found that out of 996 adolescents in Year 7 and Year 8, 51.7% of girls and 45% of boys had engaged in disordered eating behaviours such as skipping meals, binge eating, and strict exercise.

Social media use was found to be particularly high in this age group, with 75.4% of girls and 69.9% of boys using at least one platform, with Instagram being the most popular.

The more time spent using image-based platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat was also associated with significantly higher disordered eating behaviours, and this risk increased when a young person had multiple social media accounts.

Dr Simon Wilksch who led the study said the findings are cause for concern.

“A key component of preventing eating disorders is to give the message that our self-worth should be defined by a mix of our abilities, values and relationships,” Dr Wilksch said.

“Social media seems to encourage young people to focus strongly on their appearance and the way it is judged or perceived by others.

“To find these clear associations between disordered eating and social media use in young adolescent girls and boys suggests that much more needs to be done to increase resilience in young people to become less adversely impacted by social media pressures.”

Professor Tracey Wade

Dr Wilksch is currently working with Australian Rotary Health Mental Health Research Grant recipient Professor Tracey Wade on an Australia-wide trial of ‘Media Smart Online’, an online intervention to help reduce eating disorder onset and increase eating disorder remission.

The intervention has already been successful in women aged between 18-25, and it is hoped similar results will be found as expands to males and females between 13 and 25 years old.

“We were very pleased with the outcomes of the first trial and are excited to expand the program to a wider age range and people of any gender in this new research, since we know these concerns are not limited to females.”

To read the original journal article, click here. 


Media contact: Jessica Cooper – (02) 8837 1900 or jessica@arh.org.au

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