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Reducing social media use improves body image in teens

According to a new study led by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute, teens and young adults who reduced their social media use by 50 percent experienced significant improvements in how they felt about their weight and overall appearance in just a few weeks, compared to peers who maintained the same levels of social media use.

“Adolescence is a vulnerable period for the development of body image issues, eating disorders, and mental illness,” said study lead author Gary Goldfield, a senior scientist at the CHEO Research Institute.

“Youth are spending, on average, between six to eight hours per day on screens, much of it on social media. Social media can expose users to hundreds or even thousands of images and photos every day, including those of celebrities and fashion or fitness models, which we know leads to an internalization of beauty ideals that are unattainable for almost everyone, resulting in greater dissatisfaction with body weight and shape.”

The experts enrolled a cohort of 220 undergraduate students aged 17 to 25 (76 percent females, 23 percent males, and one percent other), who were regular social media users (at least two hours per day) and exhibited symptoms of anxiety and depression. In the first week of the experiment, all participants were asked to use social media as they normally would, while researchers tracked their screentime.

Afterwards, half of the them were instructed to reduce their social media use to a maximum of one hour per day. At both the beginning and end of the experiment, participants had to rate how they feel about their overall appearance and weight.

The experiment revealed that, after three weeks, individuals who reduced their social media use had a significant improvement in how they regarded both their overall appearance and weight, regardless of gender.

“Our brief, four-week intervention using screentime trackers showed that reducing social media use yielded significant improvements in appearance and weight esteem in distressed youth with heavy social media use,” Goldfield explained.

“Reducing social media use is a feasible method of producing a short-term positive effect on body image among a vulnerable population of users and should be evaluated as a potential component in the treatment of body-image-related disturbances.”

In a future larger study, the scientists plan to investigate if reduction in social media use can be maintained for longer periods of time and whether this could lead to even greater psychological benefits.

The study is published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media. 


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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