A Healthier U

The Association between Social Media Use and Eating Concerns among U.S. Young Adults

Almost 70 percent of adults in America use at least one social media platform. Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from a diagnosed eating disorder. Even more people may suffer from eating concerns such as body dissatisfaction, altered body image, negative feelings associated with food, and disordered eating behaviors. There is no singular cause for eating concerns and eating disorders. The sources are complex and involve biological, mental, and environmental influences. One such influence is social media.

A recent study examined the association of social media use and eating concerns in young adults in the United States. The study showed that there was a strong and consistent association between social media use and eating concerns. The more times per week and more hours per day individuals used social media, the more likely they were to have an eating concern.

Social media often combines visual images and interactions with peers. It can be a great tool for connecting with others and sharing experiences. When images and messages increase the risk for negative body image or feelings around food, then social media isn’t so great. Social media has even been used by “pro-mia” or pro-anorexia online groups to promote “ideal,” thin body images. Looking forward, hopefully social media can be used more to create an environment to promote positive body images, healthy relationships with food, and self-esteem.

Talking about eating concerns and eating disorders can be difficult, especially if its someone you care about. Eating disorders should always be treated by a professional, but reaching out may be an important first step in helping him or her get the support and treatment they need. Each individual and situation is different and there is no “right” way to bring up eating concerns or eating disorders. Use discretion, sensitivity, and follow these tips.

  • Prepare the conversation: Educate yourself about eating disorders and be familiar with available resources. See below.
  • Set a time to talk: Don’t ambush your friend or loved one. Set a time to talk one-on-one in private. Choose the appropriate time and place.
  • Choose words carefully: Talk in a caring and loving manner. Don’t accuse, blame, or threaten. Use “I” language.
  • Actively listen: Be open, listen, and acknowledge your loved one’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Suggest professional help gently: If your loved one is ready to seek professional help, offer to go along with them or connect them with resources. If they are not ready, don’t force treatment. Keep the door open and show authentic support.

University of Utah
SPEAK – Students Promoting Eating Disorder Awareness and Knowledge
Counseling Center
Center for Change
National Eating Disorders Association
Academy for Eating Disorders
Intuitive Eating

Sidani, Jaime E., et al. “The Association between Social Media Use and Eating Concerns among US Young Adults.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 116, no. 9, 2016, pp. 1465–1472., doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.03.021.


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