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Facebook and eating disorders in adolescent girls

by Sandy Todd Webster on Apr 15, 2011

Food for Thought

Eating disorders and disordered eating already comprise very complex sets of thoughts and behaviors. Past studies have shown that women and girls are most vulnerable. Can exposure to media such as Facebook make young girls even more susceptible?

A recent unpublished study, conducted by Professor Yael Latzer, Professor Ruth Katz and Zohar Spivak of the faculty of social welfare and health sciences at the University of Haifa, Israel, says, yes, it can. Latzer, Katz and Spivak examined the impact of two factors on the development of eating disorders in young girls: exposure to the media and self-empowerment.

Recruited for the study were 248 secular Jewish females aged 12–19 from a 6-year middle and high school in northern Israel. Each participant was asked to complete several self-report measures: a demographic questionnaire, which included questions about media consumption habits (of different categories: newspapers, television and Internet) and whether and how her parents were involved in their daughter’s media consumption; the Eating Disorder Inventory; the Eating Attitudes Test-26; the Body Shape Questionnaire; and the Empowerment Scale.

“Results show that the higher the level of exposure to media, in its different categories, the higher was the level of negative body image and disordered eating pathology,” stated the authors in their research abstract. “There was a significant relationship between the extent of the girls’ Facebook involvement and . . . [disordered] eating pathology. The more they were on the social network, the more they were likely to suffer from bulimia tendencies, body dissatisfaction, poor body image and pursuit of a weight-loss diet.”

The researchers also found that exposure to fashion and music on the Internet, especially on YouTube, showed the same significant trend, but the connection was not as strong as with Facebook use. Furthermore, the level of the girls’ personal empowerment was negatively linked to eating disorders; the more empowered they felt, the lower their risk of eating disorders and poor body image.

“Significant potential for future research and application of eating disorder prevention lies in an understanding of how parenting decisions can affect an adolescent girl’s sense of empowerment and that enforcing a girl’s sense of empowerment is a means to strengthening body image. This study has shown that a parent has potential ability to prevent dangerous behavioral disorders, and negative eating behavior in particular,” the researchers stated.

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.