Many young people, especially girls, are at risk of developing eating disorders due to their constant exposure to unrealistic body images on social media platforms such as TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. A recent review of 50 studies from 17 countries revealed that the widespread use of social media, which remains largely unregulated, may contribute to body image concerns and low self-esteem among users, leading to unhealthy eating habits and disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
The majority of the studies were conducted between 2016 and 2021 and focused on participants aged 10 to 24 years. Most of these studies took place in wealthy countries like the United States and Australia. With over 90% of American and British teenagers engaging with social media, there is growing concern over its influence on young people’s body image and mental health.
Komal Bhatia, co-author of the study and a research fellow in adolescent health at University College London, acknowledged that the study did not determine the extent to which social media use contributes to body image problems and eating disorder risk. She also noted that it is unclear whether young people are directly harmed by social media or if those with preexisting body image issues seek out idealized content.
Bhatia’s team found that young people with greater confidence in their appearance and a better understanding of social media were less susceptible to its negative effects. She emphasized the need for open discussions about body image and social media to protect young people from unhealthy influences.
Lauren Smolar, vice president of mission and education for the U.S. National Eating Disorders Association, highlighted the pressure that social media can put on users. She encouraged parents to teach their children to critically analyze the images they see online and remind them that social media is not reality. Parents can also use technology to limit their children’s social media usage and monitor the content they engage with. Smolar advised parents to check in with their children and ask them how they feel after being online, and to seek professional help if needed.
The study’s findings were published on March 22 in PLOS Global Public Health.
Key Takeaways in a Nutshell – Health Newstrack
– Exposure to unrealistic body images on social media platforms may increase the risk of eating disorders, particularly among young girls.
– The majority of the reviewed studies focused on participants aged 10 to 24 years and were conducted between 2016 and 2021.
– Social media’s influence on body image concerns and low self-esteem can lead to unhealthy eating habits and disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
– Parents should teach their children to critically analyze online images, monitor their social media usage, and seek professional help if needed.