Girls and young women who turn to social networks to help them with weight or body image problems should be careful, as no study has yet shown that such interventions can be effective and may even be a double-edged sword, says a study conducted at Laval University.
Professor Sophie Desroches, from the School of Nutrition, and doctoral student in nutrition Audrée-Anne Dumas found that social media has a negative effect on women’s body image, although in theory they represent an interesting platform for obtaining information or support.
For teenage girls, the university explained, spending more than two hours a day on it is associated with a higher risk of dissatisfaction with their weight and a greater desire to lose weight.
Frequent use of social media is also associated with a greater concern about thinness. The propensity to idealize slimness and to compare oneself to others exacerbates the negative effects of social networks.
“Roughly speaking, what we can see is that the use of social networks would be a little more deleterious, either neutral or deleterious, with regard to body image in women,” said Ms. Dumas.
Among adult women, exchanges on diet and physical activity on social media seem to have more influence than oral exchanges on the same topics with family and friends. “The opinion of the peers in the virtual community seems to be very important,” said Sophie Desroches in a statement.
It is also questionable whether social networks are responsible for the body image problems of adolescent girls or young women, or whether those who have problems in the first place will be more attracted to social platforms.
“The equation wouldn’t be as simple as “I use social networks, I have a bad body image,” Audrée-Anne Dumas warned. It would rather be the type of activity practiced on social networks. If it’s activities like publishing pictures of yourself, arranging pictures, it’s very image-oriented and it would have a different effect than just consulting a Facebook news feed. »
“There are also different personality traits that would put us at greater risk, such as comparing ourselves to others or valuing thinness,” she added.
That being said, it is still too early to decide on the usefulness of social media for losing weight and improving body image. Facebook seems to have some potential as an intervention tool,” said Dumas, “but you can’t really conclude that it would be effective in losing weight in women.
As a general rule, therefore, caution should be exercised.
“It can be a very rewarding platform, if I am in a weight loss process […] it can be rewarding, it can be reassuring to see other people, we are in the same process together, it can be very motivating, but it can also motivate in the wrong way if we have more risky behaviors”, warned the researcher.
The findings of this study are published in the medical journal Current Obesity Reports.