PhotoA combination of dieting and exercise is important to staying healthy, but doing too much of either can be dangerous.

A new study from Georgia College & State University discusses how unrealistic expectations of beauty, coupled with using certain mobile applications and social media platforms, may be contributing to unhealthy eating disorders and compulsive exercise.

“The results of our study indicate that the use of mobile applications, such as Eating Thin, Lose It!, or Fasting Secret, is linked with reports of disordered eating and compulsive exercise,” the researchers said.

“In other words, those young people who use these digital applications on their mobile devices are more likely than other individuals to engage in anorexia- or bulimia-related behaviors, as well as to reveal that they have to exercise in order to feel good about themselves.

Eating disorders, compulsive exercise

The researchers want to be clear that sharing health/exercise progress or using certain apps is not an assurance of unhealthy behavior; however, someone who engages in this behavior is more likely to suffer from these problems.

“It seems from our study that ‘fitspiration’ content is specifically related to risky behaviors like compulsive exercise and eating disorder symptoms, especially among those young people who use mobile apps on a frequent basis,” said Veronica Hefner, co-author of the study.

The researchers came to their conclusions after administering several tests to 262 participants. These assessments consisted of surveys that gauged behaviors for compulsive exercise, eating disorders, social media use, blog use, microblog use (i.e. Twitter, Instagram), and use of mobile apps.

Maintaining body image

After collecting all of the data, the researchers concluded that using mobile apps and engaging with microblogs that feature “fitspiration” content had a strong association with compulsive exercise and symptoms of eating disorders.

Other forms of social media, such as traditional blogs, were less associated with these disorders; the findings indicated that this weakened connection may be due to a reduced level of interactivity and feedback that microblogs like Twitter and Instagram provide more of.

The researchers admit that future research must be done to verify their results, but they believe that the positive associations that they found speak to the dangers of negative health behaviors in an ever-evolving digital world.

“If an effort could be made to reduce the amount of time people spend using these types of social media, as well as the activities they perform on these platforms, we could potentially decrease the negative health effects du to these pervading fitspiration messages online, unattainable ideals of beauty, and the constant drive to create and maintain the perfect body,” they said.

The full study has been published in the journal Cogent Social Sciences.

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