UCL study finds a link between your favourite clean eating Instagram accounts and increased risk of an eating disorder

Following health food Instagram accounts could lead to an obsession with healthy eating

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It’s well-known that despite all the things we love about social media, it can have negative psychological effects on issues such as self-esteem and body image.

A new study conducted by UCL researchers has found links between Instagram use and an eating disorder called orthorexia nervosa, which refers to an obsession with healthy eating.  Orthorexia nervosa frequently cooccurs with anorexia and sufferers often display symptoms of anxiety disorders.

In the UCL study, 680 female participants who all follow health food social media accounts filled in an online survey assessing their social media use, eating behaviours, and orthorexia nervosa symptoms.

Higher Instagram use was associated with an increased likelihood of displaying symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. No other social media platform was found to have this effect.

In addition, the prevalence of orthorexia nervosa among the sample was 49 per cent – in the general population it is less than 1 per cent.

The UCL research links to a recently published report conducted by The Royal Society for Public Health and the Young Health Movement which ranked Instagram as having the worst effect on young people’s mental health out of all the social media platforms. This stemmed from a survey of almost 1,500 young people (aged 14-24) from across the UK which asked them to rate how the social media platforms they use impacts upon issues including self-identity, body image, anxiety, depression and real world relationships.

The findings of both studies highlight the influence social media can have on people’s psychological wellbeing, especially with the current barrage of social media ‘celebrities’ promoting a clean eating lifestyle.