Does Facebook cause eating disorders?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Does Facebook cause eating disorders?
When it comes to teen eating disorders the finger is often pointed at social media, but is Facebook really to blame?

Following the release of shocking figures that more than half of the UK's hospital admissions for eating disorders were under-20 and some of those under-10, social media has copped much of the blame for contributing to the development of eating disorders in "the Facebook generation".

Teen and pre-teen eating disorders are on the rise with children as young as seven being admitted for treatment in Australia, and anorexia nervosa among the most common disorders affecting adolescent girls.

Related: Kids under 10 admitted to hospital with eating disorders

Many commentators, including Australian Women's Weekly readers, have suggested social media could be the culprit.

"It's absolutely horrible that children as young as seven feel insecure about their bodies to a point where they get anorexia! I blame media and social networking… some of the stuff that is on Facebook is terrible for children to see and with celebrities being bullied when they gain a little weight... that's even worse making everyone feel like they need to be perfect!" reader Jessica Evans said.

"A child as young as seven shouldn't even be ON social networking," Kate Haeden replied.

These concerns have been echoed by commentators like eating disorder charity Beat CEO Susan Ringwood, highlighting social media as a contributing cause.

"It's a complex mix of factors as to why an eating disorder begins. It is more hard-wired than we thought before. It's in our biology," she told The Telegraph.

"But more girls, who are already vulnerable to these sorts of doubts [about themselves] find the pressure of social media - and the culture of needing to add photos of themselves online, particularly toxic."

Ms Ringwood said that while we cannot change the wiring of the brain in young, vulnerable women, we can make an effort to change the web culture, calling on corporate owners of websites to take responsibility.

Popular social network Pinterest has taken steps to stop users being able to search for content relating to eating disorders, in an effort to hamper the popularity of pro-anorexia or "thin-spirational" posts.

Tumblr also began removing posts that promote eating disorders, self-harm and suicide earlier this year, which has garnered positive feedback for the site.

Tumblr's vice president support Marc LaFountain said that while Tumblr wanted to respect freedom of speech, they felt it was important to protect the young people who use the site.

While Facebook is still yet to make a move in the area, the complexities lie in the vanities of 'the Facebook generation' and difficulties in restricting what people post about themselves, and how friends compare to each other.

A study from the University of Haifa recently found that the more time adolescent girls spend in front of Facebook, the more their chances of developing a negative body image, and various eating disorders.

Related: How you can boost your daughter's body image

But even though the studies found that Facebook was a contributor, the researchers said that ultimately it was up to parents to control those habits, and encouraged parents to get involved in their daughter's media exposure.

"This study has shown that a parent has potential ability to prevent dangerous behavioural disorders and negative eating behaviour in particular," researchers said.

Girls whose parents were involved in their media usage - who knew what they were viewing, reading, and what websites and social networks they were visiting - showed more personal empowerment, forming a protective shield against eating disorders.

Your say: Do you think social media plays a part in contributing to adolescent eating disorders?

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