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Time Spent on Facebook Could Help Predict Eating Disorders

Update Date: Mar 07, 2014 02:29 PM EST

Since the social media website, Facebook can provide people with a lot of information on one another, researchers have recently started using the platform in their studies. Some of these studies have found that Facebook can generate or exacerbate feelings of jealously, isolation and overall dissatisfaction. In a new study, a researcher from Florida State University utilized Facebook to help predict which female users are more likely than others to develop eating disorders.

For this study, researcher Pamela K. Keel, a professor of psychology, recruited nearly 960 college-aged female participants, who filled out a survey measuring their eating attitudes and habits. The participants were divided into two groups. In one of the groups, the women were told to spend 20 minutes on their Facebook page and in the other group, they were asked to read about the animal, ocelot on Wikipedia and then watch a YouTube video clip about that adorable rainforest cat. Neither group was allowed to go on any other websites.

The researchers discovered that women who used Facebook more often than others had a greater risk of developing an eating disorder. The researchers identified certain Facebook behaviors that could be used as predictors of eating disorders. For example, they found that women with eating disorders were more likely to report higher importance in receiving "likes" and comments for pictures and posts. Furthermore, women with eating disorders were more likely to untag themselves in a photo and more likely to compare their photos to those posted by their female friends.

"Women who spent 20 minutes on Facebook reported greater maintenance of weight and shape concerns and greater increases in anxiety compared to women in the control condition, which demonstrates that Facebook is influencing well-established eating disorder risk factors," Keel said according to CNET.

Keel reasoned that women who used Facebook more often were more likely to suffer from eating disorders because the website allows them to compare their own bodies and lifestyles to those of their female friends. Comparisons, whether it is image related or not, can negatively affect one's mental health.

The study, "Do you 'Like' My Photo? Facebook Use Maintains Eating Disorder Risk," was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

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