Study Links Young Adults’ Social Media Use with Body Image

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Habitual use of social media by young adults is connected with increased issues surrounding eating habits and body image, according to a new study.

Young adults who spent the most time on social media per day (more than 121 minutes) had 2.2 times the risk for eating and body image concerns compared to their peers. Participants who checked social media the most frequently per week (more than 58 times) had 2.6 times the risk of people who checked it fewer than 9 times per week.

This link was consistent across demographic categories like gender, age, race, and income — all groups were affected equally, reports CTV News.

Eating disorders, including anorexia and its subtypes as well as binge eating disorder, are serious mental health problems categorized by fixations on food, exercise, and body image. Many studies, including this one, suggest that the problem is much more widespread than just clinical cases, and a large number of people are affected by disordered eating, dissatisfaction with their bodies, and negative or unrealistic body image.

Allison Hydzik of Futurity quoted lead author Jaime E. Sidani, Ph.D., M.P.H., who said:

We've long known that exposure to traditional forms of media, such as fashion magazines and television, is associated with the development of disordered eating and body image concerns, likely due to the positive portrayal of ‘thin' models and celebrities.

Social media combines many of the visual aspects of traditional media with the opportunity for social media users to interact and propagate stereotypes that can lead to eating and body image concerns.

Senior author and assistant vice chancellor for health and society at the University of Pittsburgh's Schools of the Health Sciences Brian A. Primack, M.D, Ph.D., pointed out that the study could not say conclusively whether social media use affected body image or vice versa. According to Rick Nauert Ph.D. of Psych Central, he said:

It could be that young adults who use more social media are exposed to more images and messages that encourage development of disordered eating.

Conversely, people who have eating and body image concerns might then be turning to social media to connect with groups of people who also have these concerns.

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and conducted by the University of Pittsburgh medical school. It was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Researchers asked 1,765 American adults ages 19 through 32 about their social media use. They collected information on the 11 most popular social media sites at the time of the study (2014), which were: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and LinkedIn. They then cross-referenced those results with another questionnaire based on screening tools that assess eating disorder risk.

Most people who participated in the study, according to Liz Steelman of, used social media for a little more than an hour per day and visited the sites about 30 times a week.

In response to their findings, the researchers suggest preventative measures like including informative messages on the social media sites.

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