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Could more time on Facebook help spur eating disorders?

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FRIDAY, March 7, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Young women who spend a lot of time on Facebook tend to be more likely to be concerned about their body image and could be at increased risk for eating disorders, a new study suggests.

Researchers looked at how much time 960 female college students spent on the online social media site, how important "likes" were to them and whether they "untagged" photos of themselves.

The more than 95 percent of study participants who used Facebook typically spent 20 minutes on the site during each visit, and an hour on the site each day.

Those who spent more time on Facebook were more likely to worry about their weight and body shape, and to have eating disorders, the investigators found. These women also tended to place greater importance on receiving comments and "likes" on Facebook, frequently untagged photos of themselves, and compared their photos to pictures of friends.

The study was published online recently in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

But the researchers also suggested it may be possible to use Facebook to help young women learn about the responsible use of social media sites, develop better self-image and prevent eating disorders.

Although the study found an association between time spent on Facebook and possible higher risk of eating disorders in college-aged women, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

"Facebook merges powerful peer influences with broader societal messages that focus on the importance of women's appearance into a single platform that women carry with them throughout the day," study author Pamela Keel, of the department of psychology at Florida State University, said in a journal news release.

"As researchers and clinicians attempt to understand and address risk factors for eating disorders, greater attention is needed to the emerging role of social media in young people's lives," Keel said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about eating disorders.

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