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Drooling over food that pops on your feed? Instagram accounts may up eating disorder risk

The photo-sharing site could put you at an increased risk of an eating disorder.

Last Updated: May 22, 2017, 05.57 PM IST
Social media use is ever increasing among young adults and has previously been shown to have negative effects on body image.
Social media use is ever increasing among young adults and has previously been shown to have negative effects on body image.
LONDON: Scrolling through images of mouth- watering smoothies on Instagram? The photo-sharing social media site could put you at an increased risk of an eating disorder that causes unhealthy obsession of 'fitness' food, a new study warns.

The findings from the University College London (UCL) in the UK highlight the implications social media can have on psychological wellbeing, and the influence social media 'celebrities' may have over hundreds of thousands of individuals.


At 16 years old, Morgan Hipworth (@bistromorgan) has dreamed up over 2,000 doughnut flavors and opened his own shop, Bistro Morgan, in Windsor, Australia. Unlike most entrepreneurs dealing with the demands of their first business, Morgan is also a full-time high school student. “One of the biggest challenges is time management, managing my time inside of school and getting as much homework as I can done,” he says. “I’m always working around that.” But seeing people take a big bite or shoot one of Morgan’s signature syringes of filling — a concept he created to stand out — is worth the energy and effort. “Food plays such an active part in people’s lives,” says Morgan. “It can determine their mood or how their day is going. I love being a part of that.” #MadeToCreate Watch Morgan make some of his signature creations right now on our Instagram story! Photo by @bistromorgan

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Social media use is ever increasing among young adults and has previously been shown to have negative effects on body image, depression, social comparison, and disordered eating.

One eating disorder of interest in this context is orthorexia nervosa, an obsession with eating healthy.

High orthorexia nervosa is prevalent in populations who take an active interest in their health and frequently occurs with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterised by a low weight, fear of gaining weight and a strong desire to be thin.

Researchers conducted an online survey of 680 social media users who were following health food accounts to investigate links between Instagram use and orthorexia nervosa symptoms.

"We assessed their social media use, eating behaviours, and orthorexia nervosa symptoms," researchers said.

They found that sigher Instagram use was associated with a greater tendency towards orthorexia nervosa, with no other social media channel having this effect.


Food lovers from around the world flock to @coachella for a reason. The annual music and arts celebration pays careful attention to their curation of food, bringing together a list of vendors ranging from Los Angeles’ finest gourmet chefs to food truck favorites who give a festival twist to their signature dishes — think fruit-filled acai bowls, Peruvian-Mexican burritos and fresh ceviche topped with uni. Afters Ice Cream (@aftersicecream) is one vendor scooping flavorful cones this weekend. “We use local ingredients when possible, and we do everything by hand, in house,” says Joshua Stevens, who manages festivals and catering for the small-batch ice cream company. Founded in Fountain Valley, California, Afters’ flavors range from Vietnamese-influenced jasmine milk to a play on the traditional cookies and cream – a vibrant blue-colored ice cream with Oreo chunks called Cookie Monster. “Whether you’re 6 months old or 99 years old, everyone loves that flavor. The color really sticks out.” Photo of @aftersicecream by @jnsilva

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The prevalence of orthorexia nervosa among the study participants was 49 per cent. This is significantly higher than the prevalence in the general population, which is less than one per cent.

"Our results suggest that the healthy eating community on Instagram has a high prevalence of orthorexia symptoms, with higher Instagram use being linked to increased symptoms," researchers said.

These results may also have clinical implications for eating disorder development and recovery.

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