Facebook Implicated in Rising Number of Teens with Eating Disorders

troubled_teenThe triggering factors of eating disorders may seem trivial or foolish to some; however, to a teenager suffering from severely low self esteem these can set off an inexplicable and distorted perception of oneself. Tragically, this can lead to the altering of eating habits so drastically that it can eventually lead to death.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the incidence of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are steadily rising amongst teenagers. There are 10 million girls and 1 million boys identified to have this disease, 95% of which are aged 12 to 25.

Self confidence generally comes from knowing one’s value; it starts to develop during the toddler years, where parents play a very important role. Growing up in an environment which is unstable and unsupportive, such as having parents who generally ignore their children or belittle them, makes a teenager’s self esteem easy prey to outside influences. Peer pressure, the media aggrandizing the skinny figure as the hallmark of being beautiful and the constant need to fit in all come into play in the teenager’s search for their identity. If from the start, he or she puts little value in oneself, these factors might catapult him or her into a starving frenzy just to become ‘beautiful’.

A recent study shows that the tendency of teenagers to be lulled by a false perception of beauty gets even more exaggerated when they are on Facebook. According to the Social Welfare and Health Sciences, faculty members of the University of Haifa, conducted research on different media (Facebook use, watching TV, reading fashion magazines) and its influence on personal empowerment. They found that the more a young girl gets exposed to Facebook, the more her chances are of developing anorexia or bulimia.

Girls aged 12 to 18 were asked about their reading habits, exposure to TV shows highly suggestive of being thin as being beautiful and Facebook use. They also answered questions on their satisfaction with their body figure, weight and eating habits. Results show a direct connection between eating problems and Facebook use. The more a young girl updates her status, posts photos and videos, the more likely that she will become dissatisfied with her weight and figure. This dissatisfaction leads to the need to lose weight through starvation, taking diet pills and excessive exercising.

Although Facebook does not directly expose a young girl to such ideas, nor does it promote losing weight to become beautiful, the Haifa researchers hinted that being a constant Facebook user tends to make girls become a lot more focused on their physical appearance. Sometimes this is carried to the point of obsession.

Parental involvement has been shown to have a direct impact on the self empowerment of young girls. The more a parent provides support by talking to her or asking how she feels, the more the young girl feels confident and self empowered. A high level of self esteem vastly decreases the chances of developing an eating disorder.

The 24th annual National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW) will be on February 20 to 26, 2011. Parents are advised to become involved in their children’s lives to minimize eating disorders among teens.

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