Instagram, TikTok: Social media linked to eating disorders, study finds

With an estimated 3.6 billion users worldwide, social media is ingrained in today’s culture.

But it isn’t all good news.

A sweeping review published in PLOS Global Public Health has found a disturbing association between social media use and body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.

The authors, Komal Bhatia and Alexandra Dane from the Institute for Global Health at the University College London, analysed 50 studies on social media, body image, and eating disorders, from 17 mostly high-income countries.

The review found there was a common pattern of users to “manage one’s own online identity to meet the ideal marked by others, to manipulate and scrutinise ‘selfies’, and once posted, angst over the numbers of likes or comments received”.

It found despite one’s best efforts “this online change is rarely good enough”.

“Through the lens of social media, someone can always look better, skinnier or prettier. Likewise pro eating disorder content is rife and the ‘healthy’ #fitspiration trend may be fuelling new waves of disturbed eating and exercise pathology.”

The outcome, the review found, is a population of young people at risk of “corroding body image, gaping discrepancies between their actual and polished online selves and an increasing likelihood of engaging in compensatory disordered eating behaviours”.

The authors noted it wasn’t possible to isolate one single cause but there appeared to be a “plausible link between social media, body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders” which they described as “alarming”.

An estimated 13 per cent of young Aussies will experience an eating disorder by the age of 20 and almost half have participated in eating disordered behaviours.

Young Australians say body image is one of the top three things causing them anxiety.

Instagram versus reality

One trend that aims to expose social media’s ultra-curated, performative standards are “Instagram versus reality” images.

These images often show an edited photo of someone at their best angle alongside a more “real” photo that shows their imperfections.

In a 2019 study, women were shown these types of posts, either in their original form or just the “reality” or “Instagram” images separately.

Researchers found that women felt less dissatisfaction with their bodies after seeing either the “reality” images or the “Instagram versus reality” images side-by-side.

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Originally published as ‘Alarming’ Instagram filters, social media linked to eating disorders

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