Vol. 31 / No. 1 — Eating Disorders Review
A new link between Internet use and eating disorders
According to Statista, the German online portal for statistics, in 2018, the average American spent 24 hours a week online. Smartphones and social networks have increased the level of Internet addiction and eating disorders among university students, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Granada (Nutrients. 2019; 11:2151).
Problematic Internet Use is one reflection of uncontrolled use of technology, and recent studies are showing a link between Internet addiction and eating disorders. Problematic Internet Use is categorized as a “behavioral addiction” (Comput Hum Behav. 2016; 55:76). Dr. Francisco-Javier Hinojo-Lucena and colleagues in Granada, Spain, conducted a meta-analysis of the literature on Problematic Internet Use and EDs using two databases, Scopusand Web of Science. The researchers included journal articles, empirical research, papers written in either English or Spanish, to study the association of Problematic Internet Use with an eating disorder among students. They excluded proceeding of meetings and congresses, book chapters, books, or non-peer-reviewed publications, theoretical papers or reviews, Problematic Internet Use not associated with a particular eating disorder, and non-student populations. The researchers identified 12 articles in the systemic analysis and 10 in the meta-analysis. Seventy-five percent of the articles were published since 2014; the first articles on Problematic Internet Use and eating disorders were published in 2009.
Some conclusions were made
The authors evaluated articles and documents that included 16,520 students from different countries. A number of eating disorders were associated with Problematic Internet Use: AN, BN, BED, food preoccupation, loss of control eating, and dieting. Most cases involved BN (92% of cases) and highlighted the interest in AN (50%), food preoccupation and loss of control eating (both 42%), and BED (17%). Overall, those with Problematic Internet Use were more likely to have an ED or disordered eating. The authors also noted that most studies involved university students, the group at highest risk. Problematic Internet Use presents many challenges because it may encourage sedentary behavior and may facilitate ordering food online. An additional danger from the social networks is the risk of social comparisons, which can also lead to the development of eating disorders such as AN or BN.
Finally, the authors suggest that since university students are at the greatest risk, preventive measures should be introduced earlier, at lower educational levels.