“Fitspiration” May Not Be As Healthy As It Seems

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The link between social media use and eating disorders is controversial, but more evidence is appearing every day that suggests social media may be fueling unhealthy eating and exercising habits that often characterize or contribute to disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

The latest trend of social media that may be driving dangerous behaviors doesn’t seem so malicious on the surface. So-called “fitspiration” has become a popular name given to a stream of posts offering healthy recipes, workout tips, and motivational quotes.

This may seem good, but recent research suggests fitspiration may actually be a dangerous factor in the already complex relationship between social media, body image, eating disorders, and unhealthy exercise habits.

In the study, researchers from Georgia College & State University and Chapman University reviewed data collected from 262 participants who completed an online questionnaire about their exercise and eating habits, along with questions about their consumption of online “fitspirational” nutrition and exercise content.

According to the researchers, the findings show a notable association between mobile phone apps and compulsive exercise behavior and disordered eating habits. Specifically, Veronica Hefner, one of the authors of the paper, says the team saw that young people who frequently viewed fitspiration content are significantly more likely to engage in anorexia or bulimia-related behaviors such as binging and purging.

“Plenty of previous work has documented the ways in which young people can be particularly vulnerable to the effects of media use in this area of body image,” Hefner said in a press statement. “But it seems from our study that ‘fitspiration’ content is specifically related to risky behaviors like compulsive exercise and eating disorder symptoms, especially among those young people who use mobile apps on a frequent basis.”

The results are far from conclusive, but they add fuel to the discussion about how social media is impacting our behavior and health.

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