Eating Disorders and Technology

Consider for just a moment how much more connected this generation is to people and information than their parents were at their age. The internet plays a large role today in the lives of teenagers across the globe. It is important for parents to stay aware of who is speaking into their child’s world through online activity and what messages they are promoting. Online peer groups which encourage disordered eating behaviors are just one example of the type of negative influences about which parents need to be informed.

Online Communities Offer Support for Self-Harming Behaviors

Internet websites and forums along with smartphone applications are places where people already suffering with eating disorders can find validation for their self-harming behaviors. They can also be places where a young person struggling with self-image is led into wrong thinking and damaging behaviors. Postings of videos or pictures used to create unhealthy diet and exercise competition among viewers is a common practice within this subculture. Bloggers use the Internet to disseminate unhealthy tips pertaining to weight loss, over-exercise and other destructive behaviors associated with eating disorders. In fact, these bloggers unashamedly label themselves as pro-ana (meaning pro anorexia) and/or pro-mia (for being pro bulimia).

The online support for these harmful practices became of such concern to French authorities back in 2008, that posting images and content which it was deemed promoted these sites, was made illegal. More recently, U.S. webmasters have begun to take a more proactive stance to try and stem the tide of dangerous communication related to these diseases.

Internet Sites Are Beginning to Prohibit Content Which Promotes Disordered Eating

In the United States eating disorders represent a significant portion of all mental health diagnoses with 24 million Americans considered as affected. Eating disorders are also the most deadly of all mental health conditions, partly because they are so difficult to treat. Given the magnitude of the problem, social sites are beginning to take responsibility for the way some are using them to encourage disordered behaviors. Facebook, for example, has denied users the ability to post pro-ana content or thin-inspiring (called thinspiration) forums. Other more image-based sites are starting to follow suit by better managing the pictures they allow to be posted.

Positive Information is Also Available on the Internet

With all of the dangerous content available on the Web it is easy to see the Internet as the parent’s enemy in the battle for their teen’s mind. Technology, of course, is not inherently bad and there are many positive resources to be accessed. For those who are struggling to overcome eating disorders, online support is available as is plenty of information and help for concerned parents.

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