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Social Media Use May Be Risk Factor for Eating Disorders in Young People

FRIDAY, March 24, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Social media usage is a credible risk factor for the development of eating disorders, according to a study published online March 22 in PLOS Global Public Health.

Alexandra Dane and Komal Bhatia, Ph.D., both from the Institute for Global Health at University College London, conducted a scoping review to examine the relationship between social media usage, body image, and eating disorders in young people aged 10 to 24 years.

Based on 50 included studies (17 countries), the researchers found that social media usage leads to body image concerns, eating disorders/disordered eating, and poor mental health via the mediating pathways of social comparison, thin/fit ideal internalization, and self-objectification. The relationship is strengthened with specific exposures (social media trends, pro-eating disorder content, appearance-focused platforms, and investment in photos) and moderators (high body mass index, female gender, and preexisting body image concerns), while other moderators (high social media literacy and body appreciation) are protective, suggesting a self-perpetuating cycle of risk.

“Social media usage is a plausible risk factor for the development of eating disorders. Research from Asia suggests that the association is not unique to traditionally western cultures,” the authors write. “Based on scale of social media usage amongst young people, this issue is worthy of attention as an emerging global public health issue.”

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