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Some Eating Disorder Websites May Be Dangerous

A new study examines the content and messages presented by websites that appear to support or encourage eating disorders.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers discovered the websites use images, text and interactive applications to further knowledge, attitudes and behaviors to achieve dangerously low body weights.

The study is the largest and most rigorous analysis of pro-eating disorder websites and it is available online in advance of print in the American Journal of Public Health.

The Internet offers messages and communities that sanction anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders.

Previous studies have shown the adolescents exposed to such pro-eating disorder websites have higher levels of body dissatisfaction compared to adolescents that have not been exposed.

In addition, young people who have visited these sites are also known to engage in more and more intense eating-disordered behaviors.

“Some of the reviewed sites present very dangerous ideas and disturbing material that serve to inform and motivate users to continue behaviors in line with disordered eating and exercise behaviors,” said Dina L.G. Borzekowski, EdD, lead author of the study and associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society.

“Others sites seemed less harmful; they offered links to support recovery from these disorders and gave users venues for artistic expression.”

For the study, Borzekowski and colleagues conducted a systemic content analysis of 180 active pro-anorexia (pro-ana) and pro-bulimia (pro-mia) websites. This involved creating a valid and generalizable sample and a reliable coding scheme. In addition to objectively counting site logistics and features, researchers devised a perceived harm scale for the analyzed sites.

According to the study, more than 91 percent of the websites were open to the public, and more than 79 percent had interactive features, such calorie and body-mass index (BMI) calculators.

Eighty-four percent of the sites surveyed offered pro-anorexia content, while 64 percent provided pro-bulimia content.

“Thinspiration” material appeared on 85 percent of the sites; this included photographs of extremely thin models and celebrities. About 83 percent provided overt suggestions on eating-disordered behaviors, including ways to engage in extreme exercise, go on a several-day fast, purge after meals, and hide rapid weight loss from concerned family and friends.

On the other hand, 38 percent of the sites included recovery-oriented information or links. Nearly half (42 percent) provided the maintainers and users a place where they could post art work and poetry.

“Knowing the messages that vulnerable populations encounter is critical,” said Borzekowski.

“To better understand how media messages can potentially harm, first we must be aware of what messages are out there.”

Source: Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Some Eating Disorder Websites May Be Dangerous

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Some Eating Disorder Websites May Be Dangerous. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 12, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/06/18/some-eating-disorder-websites-may-be-dangerous/14752.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.