Technology and Media | Consumer Fraud Protection

Social Media and Eating Disorders

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While social media use is a daily part of life for young people, many parents are worried about its negative effects on mental health. Among these mental health effects, studies have found strong associations between social media and eating disorders for teens.

Below is some information for parents about social media’s influence on eating disorders.

Does social media cause eating disorders?

Plaintiffs in social media lawsuits have alleged that social media platforms have created eating disorders or made them worse in adolescents and young adults.

Research supports this allegation and also suggests an association between social media usage and low self-esteem, body image issues and disordered eating. A closer look reveals details about the findings.

Using social media is associated with disordered eating. One exploratory study of nearly 1,000 adolescents in Grades 7 and 8 found:

  • The more types of social media accounts the children had, the more likely they were to score highly on a cognitive disordered eating scale.
  • “Girls with Snapchat and Tumblr accounts and boys with Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram were significantly more likely to have” engaged in disordered eating behaviors.
  • The more girls used Instagram in a day, the more likely they were to score highly in both the disordered eating thinking and behavioral measures.

Viewing photos centered around either fitness or being thin caused lower self-esteem. An experimental study of more than 200 undergraduate women found this effect in both women who had a healthy body image and those who had a poor one.

Instagram’s image editing, browsing features, and emphasis on influencers encouraged a higher degree of body dissatisfaction. A study of nearly 300 female adolescents and young women found that the impact of viewing social media influencers’ pictures had a greater impact on the surveyed teen girls than on the young women.

Sharing self-images on social media can cause body dissatisfaction and dietary restraint. A survey of about 100 girls in grade 7 found that the teen girls who shared and edited photos had higher body dissatisfaction and controlled their diet more than girls spending less time on their photos.

It’s possible that social media may impact young people more because adolescents have a high need for social comparison and feedback from peers.

Signs of eating disorders that may be caused by social media

Recognizing the signs of an eating disorder can be helpful in safeguarding the well-being of your child. Signs of eating disorders that may be caused by social media include:

  • Anorexia nervosa: Fearing weight gain, an obsessive interest in monitoring food intake to maintain or start weight loss, purging with the aid of vomiting or laxatives, unexplained changes to growth curve or body mass index (BMI) for young people who should still be growing.
  • Bulimia nervosa: Frequent trips to the bathroom, intense focus on body image, fear of weight gain, shame about eating, excessive exercising.

If you believe that your teen is experiencing an eating disorder, please seek immediate medical attention. Eating disorders can lead to serious or life-threatening harm.

The National Eating Disorder Association is available online at nationaleatingdisorders.org or by phone toll-free at 1-800-931-2237. 

Contact a social media mental health attorney

Motley Rice represents young people and families in litigation that alleges multiple social media platforms intentionally and deliberately designed their social media apps without regard for the safety of children.

Our thoughts go out to those affected by suicide, self-harm and eating disorders worsened by social media.

Call Attorney Jonathan Orent at 1.800.768.4026 or complete this form to explore your options.

Other social media-related mental health conditions beyond eating disorders

People across the country have filed personal injury actions against social media platforms like Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. These actions allege injuries such as:

  • Addiction and compulsive use
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideations and suicide

Our experience helping families stand against tech companies

Motley Rice attorneys have worked for decades fighting for families and people. Our experience includes representing people suing tech companies because of harm they’ve suffered.

You may be eligible to file a lawsuit for social media harm if you or your child:

  • Attempted or died by suicide
  • Received treatment for self-harm
  • Received a diagnosis of a mental health disorder from a healthcare professional

If you believe these conditions were caused or worsened by social media and you need help filing a lawsuit for social media harm, please contact us. Your well-being is important to our team.

Read more about filing a social media lawsuit.

Help for self-harm and suicidal behavior

If you or a loved one are in crisis, national resources can help immediately.

  • You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. This free and confidential call will connect you with a trained staff member. You can also visit their website: 988lifeline.org
  • You can contact the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) toll-free number at 1-800-931-2237. The association’s website can also direct you to resources at NationalEatingDisorders.org.
Sources
  1. Chansiri, K., & Wongphothiphan, T. The indirect effects of Instagram images on women’s self-esteem: The moderating roles of BMI and perceived weight. 2021 July 29. New Media & Society, 25(10), 2572-2594.
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Anorexia Nervosa.
  3. Cleveland Clinic. Bulimia Nervosa.
  4. McLean SA, Paxton SJ, Wertheim EH, Masters J. Photoshopping the selfie: Self photo editing and photo investment are associated with body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls. Int J Eat Disord. 2015 Dec;48(8):1132-40. 
  5. Pedalino F, Camerini A-L. Instagram Use and Body Dissatisfaction: The Mediating Role of Upward Social Comparison with Peers and Influencers among Young Females. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022 Jan 29; 19(3):1543.
  6. Wilksch, S., O'Shea, A., Ho, P., Byrne, S., Wade, T. The relationship between social media use and disordered eating in young adolescents. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2020 Jan;53(1):96-106.