“Young adolescence is a time of both peer influences and appearance being very important, so it’s not hard to see how people this age could become very focused on how they are perceived online.” New research suggests that young people who use social media are more likely to develop an eating disorder.
Skipping meals and other behaviors related to eating disorders were reported by 52% of girls and 45% of boys who participated in the study. While social media wasn’t cited as a direct cause of eating disorders, according to the study, there is a connection that should be acknowledged and monitored.
Vegan food blogger Jordan Younger shared her experience of using her Instagram to promote a healthy lifestyle as a façade as “healthy eating” quickly escalated into an eating disorder.
“The obsession with my diet took up my every waking hour. It was stopping me from leading a normal life full of social activities and other interests,” she said.
Jordan isn’t alone. Eating disorders affect up to 30 million people in the United States, and the median age of onset for these disorders is 18 to 20 years old.
Young people are influenced daily by the pressure of social media to look and act a certain way, and if not careful, these thoughts can have a serious impact on their mental and physical health.
Luckily, social media platforms are starting to take responsibility for the power they have and are making positive changes to help young people. In September 2019, Instagram announced new policies to protect people under the age of 18 from certain weight loss products and cosmetic procedures on its platform. People can report problematic content, and, in some cases, it may be removed entirely.
Recently, Snapchat announced the launch of a new tool called “Here For You.” The service connects people searching for topics like depression, anxiety and thinspo (an abbreviation for thinspiration) to informative and helpful content written by mental health experts.
We don’t know if social media has a direct link to eating disorders. But, if there is a connection, you can help monitor it too. As the use of social media increases, it is important that you take steps to lessen its negative effects and even make it a positive influence on your life. With the right focus, it can be a place to connect with loved ones and share inspiring stories.
You can also take a Mental Health First Aid course. Mental Health First Aid will teach you about the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder, how they impact young people specifically and what you can do to help someone who might be struggling. With the knowledge and skills, you can #BeTheDifference and connect your loved ones to the support and care they need.