Science: Social Media Is Bad for Your Bod


Research has finally proved what we’ve known since circa 2011: Social media makes you feel like crap.

A new University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study of 1,765 American adults ages 19 through 32 found that those who spend more time on sites and apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook are more likely to struggle with body-image issues — and even suffer from eating disorders.

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Depending on how much time the study’s participants spent scrolling through social media, they were 2.2 to 2.6 times more likely to report concerns regarding their eating habits and body image than those who rarely logged on. And a wide array of people seem to be affected, regardless of gender, race, age, or income. Clearly, body dysmorphia does not discriminate.

There’s also a chicken-egg component: The study was unable to determine which comes first, having bad body vibes or obsessing over social media. Explained the study’s senior author and professor of medicine Brian A. Primack, M.D., in a press release, “It could be that young adults who use more social media are exposed to more images and messages that encourage development of disordered eating.”

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One of the biggest problems with the images we see on social media is that we assume they’re more “real” than those we see in professional shoots and advertisements. But as zillions of Instagram retouching scandals have shown (including, most recently, Khloé Kardashian’s warped thighs), that often isn’t the case. As the study notes, “Users are likely to [post] the scant few [photos] that may make them appear thinner from hundreds of more ‘accurate’ photographs of themselves, resulting in others being exposed to unrealistic expectations for their appearance.”

Primack also notes that, currently, pro-eating-disorder hashtags and YouTube videos are popping up faster than the sites can block them, and getting more traction than those that promote healthy lifestyles. The researchers are hoping to eventually use their findings to think up ways to combat the negative health effects of social media use.

“More research is needed in order to develop effective interventions to counter social media content that either intentionally or unintentionally increases the risk of eating disorders in users,” said study co-author Jaime E. Sidani. “We suggest studies that follow users over time and seek to answer the cause-and-effect questions surrounding social media use and risk for eating and body image concerns.”

Of course, there’s always the much simpler, unscientific way of dealing with bad body feels spurred by social media: Get off it. Delete your Instagram, disable your Facebook, and take a break from Snapchat. Go ahead — we know you can do it. And there’s a very good chance your bod (and mood) will thank you.

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