Social media linked to eating disorders in young people, research suggests

5 December 2019, 15:14

Social media
(Peter Byrne/PA). Picture: PA

A report from two Australian universities indicated that young people’s behaviour was being affected by social media.

Social media use is sparking body image issues and eating disorders in young people, new research suggests.

A survey of Year 7 and Year 8 schoolchildren – ages 12-14 – in Australia found that more than half of girls (52%) and about 45% of boys with social media accounts reported personal behaviour which the study said could be linked to eating disorders.

Researchers from Flinders University and the University of Western Australia said behaviour such as skipping meals was among the most common habits reported by those surveyed.

The study suggests that the more social media accounts a young person has, and the greater time spent using them, the higher the likelihood of them having thoughts or showing behaviours which could indicate an eating disorder.

It asked young people about their use of Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and Snapchat.

According to the research, 75% of girls and 70% of boys had at least one social media account, with Instagram the most common.

The research has been published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Social media platforms have faced repeated criticism over their policing of content which could be deemed harmful to users, in particular young people.

Dr Simon Wilksch, the study’s lead author and a senior research fellow in psychology at Flinders University, said the findings should raise concerns about young people and their use of social media.

“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.

“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.”

The research also indicated that many young people under the age of 13 – the recommended minimum age for most social media use – were using at least one platform.

Instagram confirmed this week it was to start asking users signing up to the platform to input their date of birth as a way of “strengthening” its protections around young people on the site.

Happening Now