The Association between Social Media Use and Eating Concerns among US Young Adults

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Sep;116(9):1465-1472. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.03.021. Epub 2016 May 5.


Background: The etiology of eating concerns is multifactorial, and exposure to media messages is considered to be a contributor. Although traditional media, such as television and magazines, have been examined extensively in relation to eating concerns risk, the influence of social media has received relatively less attention.

Objective: To examine the association between social media use and eating concerns in a large, nationally representative sample of young adults.

Design: Cross-sectional survey.

Participants/setting: Participants were 1,765 young adults aged 19 to 32 years who were randomly selected from a national probability-based online nonvolunteer panel.

Outcome measures: An eating concerns scale was adapted from two validated measures: the SCOFF Questionnaire and the Eating Disorder Screen for Primary Care. Social media use (including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, and Reddit) was assessed using both volume (time per day) and frequency (visits per week).

Statistical analyses: To examine associations between eating concerns and social media use, ordered logistic regression was used, controlling for all covariates.

Results: Compared with those in the lowest quartile, participants in the highest quartiles for social media volume and frequency had significantly greater odds of having eating concerns (adjusted odds ratio 2.18, 95% CI 1.50 to 3.17 and adjusted odds ratio 2.55, 95% CI 1.72 to 3.78, respectively). There were significant positive overall linear associations between the social media use variables and eating concerns (P<0.001).

Conclusions: The results from this study indicate a strong and consistent association between social media use and eating concerns in a nationally representative sample of young adults aged 19 to 32 years. This association was apparent whether social media use was measured as volume or frequency. Further research should assess the temporality of these associations. It would also be useful to examine more closely the influence of specific characteristics of social media use, including content-related and contextual features.

Keywords: Body image; Disordered eating; Eating concerns; Social media.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult