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

Nutr Diet. 2020 Feb;77(1):19-40. doi: 10.1111/1747-0080.12581. Epub 2019 Oct 3.


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. Health professionals designing social media campaigns for young adults should consider image-related content, to not heighten body dissatisfaction.

Keywords: body image; disordered eating; self-objectification; social comparison; social media; social networking sites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Image*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Diet
  • Diet, Healthy
  • Diet, Reducing
  • Female
  • Food Preferences*
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia
  • Male
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Social Media*
  • Young Adult