Researchers from the Social Welfare and Health Sciences Faculty at the University of Haifa claim to have found a correlation between Facebook use and eating disorders.
According to an article published in The Jerusalem Post, Professors Yael Letzer, Ruth Katz, and doctoral student Zohar Spivak claim that their research demonstrates a worrying correlation between the symptoms of eating disorders in young girls and heavy use of social networking site Facebook.
The study, carried out by Spivak for her doctoral thesis at the university, looked at a sample of 248 adolescent girls with a median age of 14.8 and no religious background. The girls were quizzed about habits including the amount and type of TV watched, time spent on various Internet sites, and the magazines they read.
During the research, Spivak discovered a correlation between the amount of time spent on Facebook and the symptoms of various eating disorders, including bulimia, anorexia, and a sense of dissatisfaction with their body shapes and sizes.
While other habits, including the reading of fashion magazines that promoted an unrealistic image of 'ideal' women and exposure to fashion sites on the Internet, were also reported in the study, the researchers claim that it is Facebook use that had the strongest correlation.
Presenting their findings, the researchers suggest that the most important factor is parental involvement: in cases where parents are aware of what their daughters are doing on the Internet and where discussion takes place, eating disorders were significantly less likely to occur than if unsupervised browsing was allowed.
As with many studies of this type, it's important to remember that correlation does not equal causation: it's equally likely that having an eating disorder makes you more likely to seek the advice and approval of other suffers via services such as Facebook than the other way around.
Nevertheless, the message is both clear and common-sense: make sure you know what your child is doing, and keep a dialogue open.