Teenagers and young adults who cut their social media use in half experience a significant improvement in body image after just a few weeks, according to a new study.
A team of researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute conducted a study of 220 undergraduate students, aged 17-25, who were regular social media users and showing signs of anxiety and/or depression.
"Adolescence is a vulnerable period for the development of body image issues, eating disorders and mental illness,” said lead author Dr. Gary Goldfield of Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in a press release.
“Youth are spending, on average, between six to eight hours per day on screens, much of it on social media. Social media can expose users to hundreds or even thousands of images and photos every day, including those of celebrities and fashion or fitness models, which we know leads to an internalization of beauty ideals that are unattainable for almost everyone, resulting in greater dissatisfaction with body weight and shape,” Goldfield added.
Throughout the four-week experiment, half of the study group were instructed to reduce their social media by 50 percent, while the other half were allowed unrestricted access. At both the beginning and the end of the experiment, participants completed a survey containing a series of statements about their overall appearance, rating statements such as “I am satisfied with my weight” on a five-point scale.
Participants who reduced their social media use had a significant improvement in how they regarded both their overall appearance and body weight after three weeks of reduced social media use, compared with the control group, who saw no significant change. The sex of the participant did not appear to make any difference in the effects. 76 percent of the participants were female, 23 percent male, and 1 percent “other.”
“Our brief, four-week intervention using screentime trackers showed that reducing social media use yielded significant improvements in appearance and weight esteem in distressed youth with heavy social media use,” said Goldfield. “Reducing social media use is a feasible method of producing a short-term positive effect on body image among a vulnerable population of users and should be evaluated as a potential component in the treatment of body-image-related disturbances.”
The study did not examine the link between excessive social media use and the epidemic of gender dysphoria currently afflicting the adolescent population in Canada and around the world. Many detransitioned young people say they first came across the idea that they were transgender online and became immersed in a world of YouTube and TikTok transgender influencers, who make medical transition seem fun and exciting and the solution to the discomfort and distress of puberty.
The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) has a gender clinic that offers “gender-affirming care” to young people who identify as transgender, where experimental puberty blockers and irreversible cross-sex hormones are administered to teenagers who are experiencing extreme distress with their developing bodies. Distressed young women still in that “vulnerable period for the development of body image issues, eating disorders and mental illness” Goldfield described, and very likely immersed in the same online world, are even allowed to consent to having their healthy breasts amputated.
Dr Khatchadourian, a pediatric endocrinologist and clinical investigator in the evidence to practice research program of the CHEO Research Institute, told CTV News last year that when she first started working at the CHEO gender clinic nine years ago, there were approximately a dozen referrals a year for so-called “gender affirming care.”
However, she said in recent years that number has surged to anywhere from 200 to 250 referrals annually. Khatchadourian cites an awareness of the availability of services, a more accepting society, and social phenomenon and peer influence as possible reasons as to why."I think it's probably pretty complex right now where there's numerous components to that, and I think time will tell us in the coming years what is really at play," Dr. Khatchadourian told CTV. The president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) recently admitted that there is a social contagion element to the dramatic increase in young people identifying as transgender and seeking medical transition.
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