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Frequent Facebook Use Linked to Eating Disorder Risk

Mar 06, 2014 09:09 AM EST

Frequent Facebook users may share a higher risk of eating disorders, according to a new study led by Florida State University researchers.

In a study involving 960 college women, psychology professor Pamela K. Keel discovered that more time on Facebook correlated with higher eating disorders, particularly among women who placed greater value on receiving positive feedback, via comments and likes, and were more likely to untag photos of themselves and compare their own images to friends' photos.

Although Facebook is a great way to stay connected with friends through social media, it also allows for comparing and criticism while confronting women with the thin ideal that leads to eating disorders.

The findings were detailed in a paper, co-written by FSU students Annalise G. Mabe and K. Jean Forney, "Do You 'Like' My Photo? Facebook Use Maintains Eating Disorder Risk," which was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

This study is the first to show evidence that spending just 20 minutes on Facebook contributes to the risk of eating disorders by reinforcing women's concerns about weight and shape, and thereby increasing social anxiety.

"Now it's not the case that the only place you're seeing thin and idealized images of women in bathing suits is on magazine covers," Keel said. "Now your friends are posting carefully curated photos of themselves on their Facebook page that you're being exposed to constantly. It represents a very unique merging of two things that we already knew could increase risk for eating disorders."

The findings are particularly worrisome because more than 95 percent of the women who participated in the study use Facebook. Those with Facebook accounts admitted to checking the site multiple times a day, typically spending an hour per day on the site.

More disturbing, is the popularity of "fat-talk" on Facebook, in which women engage in negative commentary about their body. These discussions become reinforced because it is seen as a way for women to bond with one another and obtain reassurance that they fit the ideal model.

The research is particularly significant because it shows how peers influence one another and may lead to interventions to reduce risk factors for eating disorders which are "associated with the highest rates of mortality of any psychiatric illness," said Keel.

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