Social media, body image and food choices in healthy young adults: A mixed methods systematic review

Published by communicatinghealth on

Abstract

Authors: Kim Rounsefell, APD; Simone Gibson, AdvAPD; Siân McLean, PhD; Merran Blair, APD; Annika Molenaar, BNutSci (Hons); Linda Brennan, PhD; Helen Truby, PhD; Tracy Ann McCaffrey, PhD.

Aim: Negative body image increases the risk of engaging in unhealthy dieting and disordered eating patterns. This review evaluated the impact of habitual social media engagement or exposure to image-related content on body image and food choices in healthy young adults (18-30 years).

Methods: A systematic search of six databases of observational literature published 2005-2019, was conducted (PROSPERO Registration No. CRD42016036588). Inclusion criteria were: studies reporting social media engagement (posting, liking, commenting) or exposure to image-related content in healthy young adults. Outcomes were: body image (satisfaction or dissatisfaction) and food choices (healthy eating, dieting/restricting, overeating/binging). Two authors independently screened,
coded and evaluated studies for methodological quality.

Results: Thirty studies were identified (n = 11 125 participants). Quantitative analysis (n = 26) identified social media engagement or exposure to image-related content was associated with higher body dissatisfaction, dieting/restricting food, overeating, and choosing healthy foods. Qualitative analysis (n = 4) identified five themes: (i) social media encourages comparison between users, (ii) comparisons heighten feelings about the body, (iii) young adults modify their appearance to portray a perceived ideal image, (iv) young adults are aware of social media's impact on body image and food choices, however, (v) external validation via social media is pursued. Most studies (n = 17) controlled for some confounding variables (age, gender, BMI, ethnicity).

Conclusions: Social media engagement or exposure to image-related content may negatively impact body image and food choice in some healthy young adults.


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