Enhancing Social Media Literacy to Decrease Body Dissatisfaction

For Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness Week (5-11 September), Australian Rotary Health is highlighting the work of past Mental Health Grant recipient, Dr Siân McLean.

Dr McLean received funding for the Lorraine and Bruce McKenzie PhD scholarship 2013-2016 (supported by  Rotary Club of Box Hill Burwood) and a grant from 2018-2019. Her most recent project focussed on trialling an online program designed to enhance social media literacy to decrease body dissatisfaction.

“Using social media can be a fun way to connect with friends and to share memories, but for some people, social media use can make them feel worse about themselves, especially about their appearance and their body,” Dr McLean said.

“We created an online program, Reel2Real, to help people use social media in different ways so that they would feel better about themselves. By working through the online activities in Reel2Real, young Australians had the opportunity to focus less on their appearance and show their true selves on social media. We predicted that doing this would reduce their body dissatisfaction.”

Almost 300 young adults were recruited to the study, which found positive outcomes for those in the Reel2Real group including, felt less worried about their appearance, thought their appearance was less important, compared how they looked less often than previously, and had lower feelings of depression than before they started to use the intervention. This was compared to people who had not yet used Reel2Real.

“Our study showed that using Reel2Real can create positive outcomes for young Australians. It is very encouraging that young people can access this program and work through it themselves, no matter where they live. Now, more people across Australia who need this kind of help will be able to get,” Dr McLean said.

Dr McLean believes that the online intervention could help reduce risk factors for more serious problems, such as eating disorders.

“Working out ways to help people feel good about themselves is a really rewarding part of our research. The success of our Reel2Real intervention means that we have a program that can be made available to others in need so that the negative effects of social media on body dissatisfaction can be reduced.”

Eating disorders impact over 1 million Australians each year, and have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. 

By supporting Australian Rotary Health research today, you can help improve body image in children. Donate here.

Media contact: Jessica Cooper – jessica@arh.org.au

First published 6th September, 2022

Watch podcast episode on this research here.

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