Social Media’s Connection to Boys’ Eating Disorders

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Doctors and researchers increasingly believe that social media can play a significant role in the lives of adolescent boys who develop eating disorders. For years now, many studies and headlines have sought to connect the dots between these issues when it comes to tween and teen girls. But a rise in body-issue problems and eating irregularities among boys has observers sounding the alarm now for them, too.

Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Julie Jargon reports, “Pediatric wards are seeing more eating-disorder cases overall, with boys making up an increasing share of patients. Cases with boys are often more severe than with girls, the doctors say, because boys’ disorders often go unnoticed until they are far along, and because eating disorders are largely believed to mostly affect young women. … Doctors and university researchers say social media is a contributing factor in boys’ body issues.”

Researchers acknowledge that many factors contribute to an issue as complex as eating disorders. That said, social media is often in the mix, because images of lean, fit male bodies can lead to unhealthy comparisons for boys who don’t feel they measure up. Some may quietly cross the line into unhealthy and compulsive eating and exercise habits in an attempt to improve how they look.

Jargon writes, “Dutch researchers last year analyzed 1,000 Instagram posts created by men and/or depicting men. A majority featured men with lean, muscular bodies, and those posts received significantly more likes and comments than posts showing men with more body fat. Researchers concluded that Instagram presents a skewed picture of male bodies which could contribute to body dissatisfaction in men.”

Eating disorders can be cloaked and difficult to recognize. But Dr. Jason Nagata, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, believes that the issue can be even harder to identify in boys. “There is so much shame and stigma around eating disorders for boys that many will never seek treatment or get care,” Dr. Nagata told the Journal.

Parents of adolescent boys already have plenty of potential concerns on their radar today, from pornography to violent video games, to name two of the more stereotypical issues. But the ubiquity and influence of social media may be contributing to boys’ unhealthy relationship with food, too.

If you have noticed changing eating habits, rapid weight loss or compulsive exercising in your adolescent boy, it’s something to pay close attention to, especially if you know he has a steady diet of social media influence. Focus on the Family offers resources to help with eating disorders in teens. For more help in this area, we’d encourage you to begin with our article “Recognizing and Confronting Adolescent Eating Disorders.” And Elaine Humphries’ excellent article “Body Image and Eating Disorders” is another of the many resources we offer to help parents navigate this complex and important issue.

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.