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Eating disorders and the internet: a dangerous mixture

Eating disorders and the internet: a dangerous mixture

February 10, 2024

According to Association Against Anorexia and Bulimia (ACAB), 11% of young Spaniards are at risk of suffering from some type of eating disorder. It is a health problem that affects girls in a special way, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)

To this we must add another factor that goes into the problem: the contents of the Internet that encourage to continue with harmful or pathological food dynamics .

Eating disorders and their footprint on the Internet

In the annual report that ACAB carried out in collaboration with the Internet Quality Agency (IQUA) that analyzes the increase in Internet content related to serious eating disorders, reflects that the group most prone to suffer these diseases are young women and adolescents (in an age between 12 and 24 years). In addition, it is estimated that there is a high vulnerability among those who visit these web pages, since in most cases (75%) they are minors.

In summary, the misuse of social networks and their relationship with eating disorders are a problem that especially affects young girls with a worrying prevalence.

Pathological 'Hashtags'

In a study of Internet Quality Agency (IQUA) carried out in 2010 for the Image and Self-esteem Foundation it was revealed that there were about 2,500,000 publications labeled with the hashtag #anorexia and almost 4,000.0000 behind #ana and #mia .

For this reason, in 2012 the popular network of exhibitors of images and "addicts to like", Instagram, took measures and included in their list of prohibited labels, (that is, they would not obtain search results): #probulimia, #proanorexia, #loseweight, #thinspo, #thinspiration (thin "Thinness" and "inspiration", etc.

Unfortunately, that measure did not eradicate the problem. Proof of this were the results of the study Dangerous hashtags in social networks what Laura Martín-Pérez , a linguist from DAIL, published the summer of 2015. In it he discovered new techniques of Internet users that made it more difficult to track the hashtags.

A problem that resists

Up to 1,005 combinations of labels that appeared next to #ana and #mia, such as #skinny (skinny) or recently, #thinspiration, the abbreviation of "thin" and "inspiration" (thin / inspiration), in addition to other labels that all psychologists recommend monitoring and go beyond the food issue, such as #sue (suicide), #deb (depression) or #cat (self-injury, suicide).

Internet as a risk environment

In a more recent study conducted in 2016, the Dialogue Table for the Prevention of Eating Disorders of Catalonia also examined our search habits, concluding that 31.6% will seek "how to lose weight fast", 11.6% "extreme diets to lose weight", 10.8% blogs and forums pro-ana and pro-mia and 5.2% "how to vomit".

In addition, emphasis was placed on frequenting social networks and spending connected hours is related to an increased risk of eating disorders and concerns about body image.

The conclusion that can be drawn is that our internet search habits reflect the extent to which we are not immune to cultural pressure by beauty canons. Young adolescents are even more sensitive and prone to be negatively affected by this content and, therefore, the use of social networks becomes a risky practice for this Internet user profile (which does not mean that the web will be harmful in all cases).

The power of the influencers

2015, the model and star of Instagram Essena O'Neill , 18, revealed to the world that behind each picture of her there was a lot of emotional suffering and food restriction and created a website to help other teens and young people to disengage from the likes and likes. She was a influencer, one of the most popular people on Instagram, and had more than 700,000 followers, a fact that serves to get an idea about the power of influence that had Essena.

The weight that these young models have in the network is overwhelming, given that 88% of young women declare that they follow influencers through social networks, according to the Annual Study of Social Networks 2016, of the IAB Spain. The fact that this type of role models of the network may be involved in potentially pathological food dynamics alarms from various sectors related to health.

Use the social network to combat pathology

The precedent that generated the young instagramer has led other people to combat food pathology in the network. These are initiatives in which the Internet is used to propagate the critical spirit and empowerment aimed at preventing the possible harmful effects of the Internet related to eating disorders .

Following the path of Essenia O'Neill, a young woman has been documenting her recovery on Instagram under the hashtag #anorexiarecovery. That is, he has invested the pro-pathological use of the social network to set an example and promote a way of life away from eating disorders. In 2016 there are already several cases of new influencers who have followed in the footsteps of Essena O'Neill, and there are also specific claims by celebrities who criticize the social pressures that keep many young girls out of healthy habits.

Social networks are still potentially dangerous

However, even today we can consider social networks potentially dangerous, at least for that risk group made up of girls and adolescents .

Laura Martin-Pérez considers it fairly easy to keep a record of these pathological labels, it seems that administrations do not apply measures that go along this line, so there are not enough control measures on the contents that can negatively and negatively affect the minors. The contents in which apology for anorexia or bulimia is more or less veiled remain a reality on the Internet.

So we must take another step to fight against these publications, denouncing as adult users . Remember that children still do not have that critical look that allows us to discern between health and extremism or pathology.

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