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Social media use linked to eating disorders

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A greater usage of social media is associated with a higher risk of suffering eating disorders and body image problems, according to a recently published study.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, and published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, sought to determine the association between social media usage and eating issues among young adults across the USA; to that end, it selected 1,765 people aged between 19 and 32 years for the study.

The participants filled two questionnaires, one plotting the volume (number of times a person visits a social media site in a day) and frequency (visits in a week) of social media usage, while the other served as a diagnostic or eating disorders. The social media sites included Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and Vine.

When these two questionnaires were cross-referenced, it was found that users who reported higher volumes and frequencies of social media use were more likely to have eating concerns.

As compared to those who hardly visited social media sites, those who reported the highest frequencies were 2.6 times more likely to have eating concerns, while those who reported the highest volumes were 2.2 times more likely to have such concerns.

These findings held, regardless of gender, race, income and other such factors that would in many other cases confound the outcome.

According to the lead author Dr. Jaime Sidani, an explanation for the correlation between eating issues and social media usage is that “social media combines many of the visual aspects of traditional media…and propagate stereotypes that can lead to eating and body image disorders.”

But as the researchers acknowledge, the relation isn’t clear cut; eating disorders could be causing more social media usage, or more social media usage could be spurring eating disorders.

The former may seem like a specious claim to make, but social media has diverse use, and for people with eating disorders, it could be the place to meet up with others suffering through similar challenges; on the surface this may look like a good alternative to get social support, but such groups tend to be enablers.

But the latter is easier to deduce, as social media is effectively in a continuum with traditional media but routs such media by the sheer volumes of images and messages it exposes an individual, and it is this deluge of visual cues that can propagate boy image issues and the attendant eating disorders.

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