Researchers at Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal have found a correlation in teenagers between the amount of time spent on social media and restrictive eating behaviours or eating disorders.
The findings were published in the journal Psychology & Health and followed 3,801 high school students over five years.
“Social media makes you feel less good about yourself and promotes a desire to be thinner, to have concerns about your weight, and potentially engage in restrictive behaviours,” said lead author Patricia Conrod.
Her previous work researching a link between social media and depression was used during a 2021 Congressional hearing where Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was questioned about the link.
Conrod said it can fuel a downward spiral where looking at an app can generate negative emotions but instead of turning away, it can lead to more time scrolling.
“The more you are in a lower mood, the more you’ll turn to social media, and the more than social media will impact on your mood in a negative spiral,” she said.
Her work rings true to Clara Chemtov, former Miss Teenage Quebec and outspoken advocate on eating disorders.
“Social media definitely had a negative impact,” she said. “Just because the way apps like Instagram work it will always show you more of the content they think you like. That meant my feed was always flooded with professional dancers and models who had bodies that were completely unlike my own.”
Chemtov was diagnosed with anorexia at 17 years old and is currently in recovery.
“Sometimes you can’t help it,” she said. “Even though you know cognitively that your life doesn’t have to look like theirs to be worthwhile. When you see it everyday, all the time, it does take a toll. You start to question yourself.”