Formal Research Paper

Eating Disorders and Social Media

With over 1.23 billion users on Facebook, 1 billion users on YouTube, 243 million active users on Twitter, 150 million on Instagram, 70 million users on Pinterest and 108.9 blogs on Tumblr, our lives have never been more intertwined with digital technology (Smith 1). Though living in a technologically advanced society can be harmful to your health. It may seem fabulous to have all these “cool” gadgets and to have the world at your fingertips, but everything comes with a consequence. Having access to loads of information at once can be overwhelming, causing your mind and body to suffer. Information discovered on the Internet gets one’s mind expanding on all kinds of knowledge; some is truthful and inspirational, while others can be misleading and harmful. One popular topic with billions of searches on the web is body image. The ideal body portrayed through social media has aided in the rise in eating disorders within America. Over the past few decades, eating disorders have become an increasing controversial problem with young women (Charles 1).

There is a major concern over social media being a virus rapidly spreading amongst the world. With social media becoming viral, young women are exposed to media’s ideal body image within their own homes. A latest fad among teen girls of this decade is the thigh gap. The impossible weight loss goal is to become so thin that there is a gap between the thighs even when the feet are together. Apparently, the wider the gap is the sexier is the person (Staff Reporter 1). The availability of seeing pictures of friends being skinny and activities of others can create a competition amongst peers. Internet fads like this one fall under a particular topic know as Thinspiration. Thinspiration is any photographs, prose or other material intended to support and provide inspiration for anorexia nervous or any other eating disorder as a lifestyle choice. This is backed with words of expression from Meagan a 16-year old girl suffering with anorexia; young women are exposed to pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia information at the palm of their hands (WCSH6 Reporter 1). It is nearly impossible to ignore these images and information, since they appear everywhere and social media is that large stepping-stone for eating disorders to reach the mass majority.

As Meagan has stated, “The connection breeds knowing what everyone is up to and the competition,” She says, “I think eating disorders are really based off of the competition. Who can be skinnier? If so and so looks like this, I can too. And I can be better” (WCSH6 Reporter 1). The message Megan is conveying is that with unlimited access to images and the personal lives of others, social media has created an unspoken challenge amongst young women to see who can have the sexiest, best looking body out there. Images and prose intended to inspire weight loss actually inspire an unhealthy competition between all young women. Furthermore, social media has produced a new society where all young women are obsessed with the idea of being skinny. Sites have even been created with full intent of promoting eating disorders; known as “Pro-Mia” (pro-bulimia) and “Pro-Ana” (pro-anorexia) sites.

“Pro-Mia” and “Pro-Ana” websites allow anyone to access and view pictures of others and receive advice on how to maintain an eating disorder. Sites like these create the most harm amongst adolescents because they send the message telling others that is okay to have an eating disorder. Implying to their audience, why struggle to fight it, just embrace it. A research team evaluated these effects by conducting a prototypical pro-anorexia site and testing it out with 235 female undergraduate subjects. The participants were told that they were taking part in a study examining the contents of Internet websites and were asked to fill out a pre-website questionnaire. Each participant was randomly assigned to view one of the three sites offered in the study. One site was a comparison site relative to female fashion and career dressing tips the other was home decor and the last site was obviously the pro-anorexia website for 25 minutes. The constructed website includes everything a real pro-anorexia website would include. Some of the information found on a pro-anorexia website are “Ana creed”, purging tips, ways to make excuses not to eat, a chat board and a “Thinspiration” photo gallery (Unknown 1).

Of the 235 women, 84 viewed the pro-anorexia website, 76 viewed a comparison website focused on the female image, and 75 viewed the neutral home decor website. Afterwards, the participants were asked to complete a second set of post-website questionnaires. The questions included the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule, the State Self-Esteem scale, the Appearance-Modified General Self-Efficacy Scale, the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) and the Eating Disorder Examination-Questionnaire. Participants who were exposed to the pro-anorexia website had greater negative affect, lower social self-esteem, and lower appearance self-efficacy than women in the other groups. They also perceived themselves as heavier after viewing the site than did viewers of the other websites. On the other hand, those women who viewed the other websites had reported that viewing the website would not affect their likelihood of engaging in the behaviors and cognitions assessed (Unknown 1). Therefore, if a single viewing of the pro-anorexia website caused such a terrible reaction, than multiple viewings would only increase these reactions. Also, there is still a greater negative impact on viewing average-sixes women, furthermore concluding that it is something about how the female image is depicted and discussed on a website that produces the negative effects and not just the focus on the image.

Extended research performed by a team of professionals analyzes the amount of pro-eating disorder content available to the public through social media. To determine which sites were providing pro-eating disorder information, the research team coordinated a systematic content analysis of 180 active websites, observing and recording site logistics, site accessories, or any “thinspiration” material such as images or any text encouraging weight loss. Also analyzing tips and tricks, recover, themes or anything that could be perceived as harm. In result to the team’s experimentation, they were able to determine a statistical conclusion of the results recovered. Some of the determined results are that 91% of these websites were open to the public, 79% included interactive features, 84% provided pro-anorexia content and 64% contained pro-bulimia content. The social media topic of interest, Thinspiration, was displayed on 85% of these pro-eating disorder sites. Even more alarming news is that 83% of the sites provide suggestions on how one should engage in eating disorder behaviors (Borzekowski, Etc. 1). This is a large percentage of sites that motivate these young women to continue engaging with eating disorder and that it is perfectly fine to have these unhealthy eating habits. Therefore, this statistical research should be noted and brought to the attention of these young women to provide added awareness to help decrease the detrimental effects of potential eating disorder problems.

Social media is being blamed by social scientists for the increasing numbers of teens suffering from eating disorders. Numerous social networking sources and the American pop culture in general contribute to this rise. During adolescent years, people are at the greatest risk for developing an eating disorder. This is because at the importance of social pressure and physical appearances are at its highest levels in one’s adolescent years. Recent studies in 2014 have found sites such as Facebook, proved to have an influence on girls’ thoughts on body image. A study at American University in Washington D.C. asked 103 adolescent girls between the ages of 12-18 to complete a series of surveys about Facebook usage and body image throughout the course of a week. The study concluded that adolescent girls who spent more of their time participating in photo-related activities were unsatisfied with their current weight, desiring to use unhealthy ways of achieving the goal of an ideally thin body image (Charles 1). It is not just on how long someone is on Facebook, but it is based on what an individual is doing while they are on Facebook. Furthermore, using photo related Facebook features provide access to an increase in appearance exposure and body image dissatisfaction (Meier & Gray 201).

Research investigators at Florida State University confirmed this discovery when they analyzed 960 college women and discovered that the more time these women spent on Facebook was associated with higher levels of disordered eating. The reason behind this discovery is that women care far too much about receiving likes and comments on status updates and photos. By holding this to a higher standard of greater importance, these women were found most likely to un-tag photos of themselves that were not popularly liked as much or photos they believed that they looked bad in. Also these types of women compared their own photos to their friends’ photos, seeing whose photos were more liked and looks better in their photos. In conclusion, these women have reported the highest levels of disordered eating. Most studies have focused on the tie between social media and eating disorders, but the Florida State study is the first of these studies to conclude that just spending only 20 minutes on Facebook will contribute to the risk of eating disorders (Nauret 1). Facebook constantly reinforces women’s concerns about their body weight and shape, increasing their anxiety as well.

According to professor Keel, more than 95% of the women who participated in the study use Facebook and all described checking their profiles repeatedly, spending at least 20 minutes during each visit furthermore, amounting to spending more than an hour on Facebook each day (Nauert 1). Moreover, Facebook combines the impact of social influences and traditional media on the risks for disordered eating. Users are being constantly exposed to their friends’ images and this thin idealized body image, where a little over a decade ago, magazine covers were the only place to these images were viewed. Therefore, Facebook is a network that provides young minds with unlimited access to negative body image though and an idealized shape. This article provides further proof that social media especially Facebook can put adolescent at a high risk of disordered eating and is therefore tied to the current rise in eating disorders within America.

Social media clearly has numerous influences on adolescents and these influences play a vital role in the rise of eating disorders in the technologically advanced society that we live in. Everything today is done through social media and social networking is where most communication occurs. With this increased interaction online, inspiration for the start of eating disorders is bound to happen. The creation of Facebook has ultimately turned adolescent girls’ lives into chaos. Featured research on a scientific study published by Professors Yael Latzer, Ruth Katz and Zohar Spivak, of the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences at the University of Haifa, examines the effects of two factors on the development of eating disorders in adolescent girls. The two factors include exposure to media and self-empowerment. The Study tested a group of 248 female subjects ranging from ages 12-19, asking each subject to take part in a survey regarding information relating the subject’s internet and television habits. As well as questionnaires examining aspects related to the subject’s general outlook on eating and their sense of personal empowerment, etc. The study furthermore concluded that the chances for the development of a negative body image and various eating disorders increases with the increased amount of time adolescent girls spend in front of Facebook (University of Haifa 1). Facebook and other sites where photos and body image are highlighted can produce negative thoughts in adolescent minds. All adolescents are under an insane amount of pressure to look their best, to appear attractive and follow up on the latest ideals, allowing them to fall under the pressures of social media, culture and their unhealthy ideals.

There are multiple sites available on the Internet that can cause alarm for a higher risk of development of eating disorders. Some sites possess a higher risk than others. These sites are Facebook, Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites, as well as any site where photos or images are the sites key focus. Moreover, it is clear that the ideal body portrayed through social media has aided in the rise in eating disorders within America. Though with the expansion of technology, the Internet is not going away anytime soon. Therefore, utilizing all of the extensive research available, the best possible solution to this issue is Awareness. Bringing awareness to young adolescents doesn’t eliminate eating disorders entirely, but it helps take action in the right direct to lower the amount of young people suffering with such eating disorders. Websites like Instagram, which “is a place where people can share their lives with others through photographs, any account found encouraging or urging users to embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or to cut, harm themselves, or commit suicide will result in a disabled account without warning” (WCSH6 Reporter 1). Nowhere on social media should anyone’s live be put at risk, so Social Scientist need to continue the research and work with social networking sites to provide American with the awareness it needs to help low this eating disorder crisis.


Borzekowski, Dina L. G.; Schenk, Summer; Wilson, Jenny L.; Peebles, Rebecka. “e-Ana

and e-Mia: A Content Analysis of Pro-Eating Disorder Web Sites.” Am J Public Health. 2010 August; 100(8): 1526–1534.


Charles, Megan. “Social Media to Blame for increase in eating disorders among teens (study).” Business 2 Community. January 27, 2014. Accessed: February 28, 2014!CyqlM


Meier, Evelyn P. and Gray, James. “Facebook photo activity associated with body image disturbance in adolescent girls.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. April 2014, 17(4): 199-206. doi:10.1089/cyber.2013.0305.


Nauert, R. (2014). “Facebook Tied to Higher Risk of Eating Disorders.” Psych Central.  Retrieved on April 22, 2014, from


Smith, Craig. “How many people use 415 of the top social media, apps & tools?” Digital Mariketing Ramblings…Thelatest digital marketing stats, tips trends and technology. March 9, 2014 Accessed: February 15, 2014.


Staff Reporter. “Social Networking Sites Promoting Eating Disorders.” Nature World News. Oct 05, 2013. Viewed: Feb 19, 2013


WCSH6 Reporter. “Impact of Social Media on Eating Disorders.” WCSHPortland. A Gannett Company. June 11, 2012. Viewed: February 25, 2012.


University of Haifa. “Facebook users more prone to developing eating disorders, study finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 February 2011.


Unknown. “Pondering Pro-Anorexia Websites: What Effects Do They Have?.” Eating Disorders Review for Professionals. Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review. September/October 2007 Volume 18, Number 5.


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