Another day, another story about something bad Facebook does to kids. Today's finding: it may contribute to eating disorders.
According to the Jerusalem Post, researchers at the University of Haifa studied the Facebook, TV, and magazine preferences of 248 teen girls, and asked them about their eating habits and body image. The more time the girls spent on Facebook, the more likely they were to suffer from anorexia, bulimia, or body dissatisfaction. Sports medicine expert Dr. Naama Constantini offers the caveat that's become standard in studies like this one: it's not clear that Facebook causes eating disorders, because girls who are predisposed to them might also be spending more time on the Internet for a variety of reasons. Interestingly, though, the Post claims Facebook has now replaced "pro-ana" and "pro-mia" websites as a source of eating-disorder-enabling material for teens.
It's pretty easy to find thinspiration pages on Facebook, though many of them are private,
and Facebook doesn't have an obvious policy for removing the material (the site hasn't responded to our request for comment yet). A Facebook spokesperson tells us they're working on the problem:
Facebook does not allow any material that promotes self-harm including eating disorders, we will remove content that is reported to us with the report links found throughout the site. Those that continually post harmful material may lose account functionality or in some cases their account. Facebook has recently been working with the National Eating Disorder Association to tailor our internal procedures, in order to best serve our users and help keep our site safe.
It's also possible that much of the general concept behind Facebook encourages comparing oneself to others in a way that can contribute to bad body image in teens. Luckily, the study also found two factors that protected girls from eating disorders: empowerment, and parental involvement. Girls with a high degree of "personal empowerment" were less likely to suffer from EDs or poor body image — as were girls whose parents talked about and monitored their Internet use. Of course, even an involved family can't guarantee that a girl won't develop an eating disorder — nor will too much Facebook guarantee that she will. But it's possible that, at least to some extent, the former could counteract the latter.