Social media is leading to an uptick in eating disorders and self-harm behaviors among teens.
A recent report by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) highlights the increase in teen eating disorders. The report reveals that the severity of these disorders has also increased, making it more challenging for healthcare professionals to treat them effectively.
The rise in teen eating disorders can be attributed to various factors, including the influence of social media. The pressure to fit in and look perfect on social media platforms has increased body dissatisfaction and unrealistic beauty standards, often unattainable for young people. Adolescents who spend a considerable amount of time on social media are more likely to develop eating disorders than those who spend less time on these platforms.
Experts say that while hiding eating disorders from friends and family became easier during social isolation, social media also plays a big factor in youth mental health. Platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube have all been the subjects of lawsuits from parents and school districts over their role in the crisis. Apart from promoting negative body image, the companies have been accused of something far more insidious — pushing content that promotes self-harm and eating disorders via their algorithms.
The pandemic negatively impacted mental health, which led to an increase in stress and anxiety among teenagers. With the sudden shift to remote learning and isolation from peers, many young people experienced disruptions in their routines and social lives, contributing to uncertainty and anxiety. According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a significant increase in mental health-related emergency department visits among adolescents in 2020 compared with the previous year.
Eating disorders have become more difficult to diagnose and treat due to their complexity. These disorders can have multiple causes and often require a holistic approach that addresses the underlying emotional and psychological issues. Furthermore, the stigma associated with mental health disorders has prevented many individuals from seeking help and support. Eating disorders are often viewed as a personal failure or weakness rather than a treatable illness. As a result, many people suffer in silence, which can lead to severe health consequences.
In response to this growing crisis, NEDA is urging parents, educators, and healthcare professionals to be more vigilant in identifying the warning signs of eating disorders and to seek professional help as soon as possible. Parents and caregivers should be aware of changes in their children’s eating habits, such as skipping meals, excessive dieting, or binge eating. They should also be mindful of comments or behaviors that indicate body dissatisfaction or negative self-image. Educators and healthcare professionals should receive training to recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders, as early intervention is crucial for successful treatment outcomes.
It is essential to recognize that eating disorders are not just about food but are complex mental health issues that require specialized care and attention. Individuals with eating disorders require a multidisciplinary approach that includes medical, psychological, and nutritional support. Treatment for eating disorders may include therapy, medication, and nutritional counseling. Individuals with eating disorders must receive treatment from specialized professionals with experience treating these complex disorders.