A few days ago a report came out showing that the number of hospital admissions for eating disorders has risen by 16 per cent from last year to 2,288.
Even more alarmingly, the statistics, released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, revealed that more than 50 under-10 year-olds were admitted to hospital with an eating problem – proving the problem is striking at a younger age.
The biggest increase of admissions was amongst girls aged 10-15 – which was up 69 per cent since 2011.
As is the norm when new worrying figures in any field emerge, people have been asking why?
And as with so many of today’s ills, some of the blame has been laid at the feet of the internet and social networking sites, such as Facebook and Pinterest.
Often when technology is blamed for society’s problems, I am one of the first to defend or at least put forward the case for the various technology providers – trying to add some much-needed perspective – such as when Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry Messenger were blamed for the riots. We all remember that moment.
However, in this instance, I do think the web and social media sites have contributed to the worsening and spreading of eating disorders – and more needs to be done by these businesses and those web hosting companies allowing a platform for pro-eating disorders.
I spoke about the issue on my LBC 97.3 radio show yesterday and was inundated with calls from young women and mothers about how the web has affected their and their daughters’ levels of self-consciousness.
Susan Ringwood, chief executive of eating disorder charity Beat, told me that social media and the prevalence of pro-anorexia sites has really affected those already vulnerable to eating disorders.
“It’s a complex mix of factors as to why an eating disorder begins. It is more hard-wired than we thought before. It’s in our biology.
“But more girls, who are already vulnerable to these sorts of doubts [about themselves] find the pressure of social media – and the culture of needing to add photos of themselves online, particularly toxic.”
Social networks need to step up
She also called upon the people running Facebook and other social networks, to take as many steps as possible to stop the promotion of eating disorders and unnaturally skinny images.
“Where there is a corporate owner of a site, they need to take some responsibility. We cannot change the wiring of the brain. But we can change this web culture and teach girls how to be more resilient and create a generation of people who are critical of this type of tone,” she explained.
Pinterest, a hugely popular site in the US, which is growing in traction over here, has already taken some steps to stop users being able to search for content relating to eating disorders.
This summer the network took steps to try and ban “user content that…creates risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury” under its updated ‘acceptable use policy’.
Since then, the site has become even more popular with those suffering with eating disorders to share photos of their favourite items, such an uneaten plate of food or very thin people.
As a proactive step to stop people from being able to search for such images, Pinterest has blacklisted a set of words pertaining to eating disorders, such as ‘thinspo’ [a term related to ‘thinspiration’ which glorifies unhealthy body images]. When people search the network using those words they will receive zero results and instead be issued with the following warning: “Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that if left untreated can cause serious health problems or could even be life-threatening.
Equally Tumblr, the blogging network, began removing posts that promote eating disorders, self-harm and suicide, earlier this year.
Marc LaFountain, Tumblr's vice president of support, said that Tumblr wanted to respect freedom of speech but felt that it was important to protect the young people who use the site.
He said the "overwhelming majority of the feedback has been positive".
The Facebook generation are just vain
Facebook still has yet to make a big move in this area (it does remove any promotion or encouragement of self-mutilation, eating disorders or hard drug abuse if flagged by users) – but it is a complex one for the largest social network in the world to monitor and stop as most of the issues come from the nature of the entire site.
We now live in a world where it is the norm to publish photos of ourselves everyday on the web – and who wants to post an ugly shot? The Facebook generation, of which I am fully part of, ‘vanity publish’ every five minutes and issue ‘humble brags’ on an hourly basis. I am happy I missed out growing up with that culture at my finger tips on a mobile phone every second of every day.
Last year professors at the University of Haifa found that young female Facebook users are more prone to developing eating disorders. The more time adolescent girls spend in front of Facebook – the more their chances of developing a negative body image and various eating disorders.
One caller to my show, Holly from Epping Forrest, couldn’t have summed up the problem better: “Before Facebook we wanted to be like celebrities – but at least that seemed out of reach because of their fame and money.
“Now it’s all about comparing yourself to your peers and wanting to be as beautiful and as thin as them. Facebook has made all of your friends celebrities who you can gawp at in the privacy of your own home and it just makes you feel inadequate.”
Not only do young girls, and to a lesser extent, young men, have celebrities and reality TV stars to live up today – they have to keep up with their friends post by post online.
from Emma Barnett in the Telegraph