Most Facebook users have the social network app installed on their smartphones to frequently check for updates and receive notifications 24/7 whether they’re at home, work, or school. While this can be advantageous to catch up with old high school and college friends to see how they’ve grown and changed throughout the years, the social networking site could be detrimental to users’ health. According to a recent study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, women who spend 20 minutes or more on Facebook report more body dissatisfaction and are more likely to develop eating disorders.

"Facebook provides a fun way to stay connected with friends, but it also presents women with a new medium through which they are confronted by a thin ideal that impacts their risk for eating disorders," said Pamela K. Keel, researcher of the study, and psychology professor at Florida State University (FSU), in the news release. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and the online photo-sharing and video-sharing site Instagram can have a negative impact on body image, especially among its frequent users — a young demographic. Functions such as “like” can generate unhealthy pressures for users to present themselves in a picture-perfect way that adheres to current online trends such as “thinspiration” and the “thigh gap.”

A team of researchers at FSU sought to replicate and further explore previous findings that have identified the associations between Facebook use and eating disorders by conducting an experimental design study. They recruited approximately 1,000 college female students who received course credit for their participation in the two-part study. In the first part of the study, all of the participants took a standard eating disorder test that asked them to agree or disagree with statements such as, as, "I give too much time and thought to food." They were also asked how much time they spent on Facebook. The second half of the study included frequent Facebook users from the first half, and a random group of participants, to examine the effects browsing different sites online.

The findings for the first part of the study revealed there was "a small but significant positive correlation" between Facebook use and eating disorders in this group. The experimental component of the second half found women who spent 20 minutes surfing their Facebook accounts had a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. These women were also more likely to value comments and “likes” on their Facebook statuses as important, untag themselves from Facebook photos, and were more likely to compare their photos with those of their female friends.

In contrast, the random group of participants who spent 20 minutes on Wikipedia researching the ocelot, a type of rainforest cat, and watching a YouTube video about them, were more likely to report a decline in concern with their weight after the study. In regard to anxiety, these Internet-browsers reported a decrease in anxiety, while their Facebook counterparts maintained their level of physical anxiety. For both groups, weight preoccupation and anxiety were measured in a survey regarding questions about their eating habits and Facebook use.

"Now it's not the case that the only place you're seeing thin and idealized images of women in bathing suits is on magazine covers," Keel said. "Now your friends are posting carefully curated photos of themselves on their Facebook page that you're being exposed to constantly. It represents a very unique merging of two things that we already knew could increase risk for eating disorders."

The findings of this study are crucial because they can help create interventions that can reduce risk factors for eating disorders. Although counterintuitive, Facebook is considered to be one of the best ways to carry out intervention strategies, wrote the researchers, because it can encourage women to put a stop to “fat talk” — when women get together and engage in negative commentary about their own body. This “fat talk” may contribute to the U.S., 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Weight preoccupations can occur in girls as early as age 6.

It’s important to assess other health problems heavy use of social networks, like Facebook, can trigger, especially since there’s an increasingly young demographic dependent on the site. From sleep deprivation to narcissism, here are three other health problems linked to Facebook use. It may be time to log out for good.

1. Facebook & Poor Sleep

Facebook is one of the most accessed social networking sites that can create a dependency, possibly having negative consequences in users’ lives. A study in the journal PloS ONE found a significant association between Facebook dependence and poor sleep quality that resulted in daytime sleepiness. Increased time spent on Facebook led to a disruption in the sleep-wake cycle of students in a private university in Peru.

2. Facebook & Depression

 The more time a person spends on Facebook, the more his or her feelings of well-being decrease, while feelings of depression increase, according to a study published in the journal PloS ONE. The researchers observed 82 Facebook users during a two week period and found these participants felt their lives weren’t as fulfilling as their friends online. "When you're on a site like Facebook, you get lots of posts about what people are doing. That sets up social comparison — you maybe feel your life is not as full and rich as those people you see on Facebook,” said John Jonides, co-author of the study, and a University of Michigan cognitive neuroscientist.

3. Facebook & Narcissism

Facebook encourages users to build an “attractive” profile by posting pictures, and measuring users’ popularity based on how many “likes” or comments they receive on the content that they post. A study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found older or middle-aged users were more likely to feed their narcissism by using Facebook by putting up photos and gaining approval from their followers. Social networking sites may be causing users to become their own personal brand agents to carefully craft their own online identities.

 

Source: Forney KJ, Keel PK, Mabe AG. Do you “like” my photo? Facebook use maintains eating disorder risk. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2014.