A new study from the University of Toronto has revealed a link between social media use and binge eating among preteens in the United States. The researchers found that children who engage in excessive screen time around age 10 have a higher risk of developing a binge-eating disorder one year later.
Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States. It is characterized by quickly consuming large quantities of food, a feeling of loss of control during the binge, and feeling shameful or guilty afterward. Binge-eating disorder can turn life-threatening when it causes heart disease or diabetes.
According to the study, each additional hour of social media engagement was associated with a 62 percent increase in the odds that the child would be suffering from a binge-eating disorder a year later. Furthermore, each additional hour of television was linked to a 39 percent increase in the risk of a binge-eating disorder.
“Children may be more prone to overeating while distracted in front of screens. They may also be exposed to more food advertisements on television. Binge-watching television may lead to binge-eating behaviors because of overconsumption and a loss of control,” said study lead author Dr. Jason Nagata.
The analysis was focused on data from 11,025 children between the ages of nine and 11 who are part of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study.
The children reported on the time they spent in front of a screen watching television, using social media, or text messaging. In addition, parents answered questions about the children’s binge-eating behaviors.
“Exposure to social media and unattainable body ideals may lead to a negative body image and subsequent binge eating,” said study senior author Dr. Kyle T. Ganson.”This study emphasizes the need for more research on how screen time impacts the well-being of young people now and in the future.”
The study findings are especially relevant during the pandemic. “With remote learning, the cancellation of youth sports, and social isolation, children are currently exposed to unprecedented levels of screen time,” said Dr. Nagata.
“Although screen time can have important benefits such as education and socialization during the pandemic, parents should try to mitigate risks from excessive screen time such as binge eating. Parents should regularly talk to their children about screen-time usage and develop a family media use plan.”
The study is published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.