Psychologists have long established social pressure and traditional media as the two most influential factors in engendering eating disorders. And Facebook combines these two factors.
"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," explained Psychology Professor Pamela K. Keel, the study's lead author. "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."
Keel studied the behavior of 960 college women, 95 percent of whom used Facebook. She and her colleagues even just 20 minutes of Facebook time per day was correlate with an increased risk for anorexia, bulimia or other eating disorders. The findings were published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
"Facebook provides a fun way to stay connected with friends, but it also presents women with a new medium through which they are confronted by a thin ideal that impacts their risk for eating disorders," Keel said.
As many as 20 million women in the U.S. have eating disorders.
Keel says her research isn't meant to demonize Facebook. The social network is just the messenger, after all. And Facebook might even be one of the best mediums for intervention strategies, she says. In other words, it's about delivering more positive messages, not killing the messenger.
Keel's advice to young women using Facebook: "Consider what it is you are pursuing when you post on Facebook. Try to remember that you are a whole person and not an object, so don't display yourself as a commodity that then can be approved or not approved."
[International Journal of Eating Disorders]