So-called Pro-Eating Disorder (ED) communities have been documented
elsewhere on the internet, “so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find
that Pro-ED was also active on Twitter,” said lead author Alina
Arseniev-Koehler of the University of Washington and Seattle
Children’s Research Institute.
She and her colleagues selected 45 Twitter profiles of users
promoting eating disorders and examined their profiles, all their
tweets, and 100 of their randomly selected followers.
The researchers found these Twitter users by searching for the
hashtag #proana, which stands for “pro-anorexia.
They excluded profiles in languages other than English and of
explicitly male users.
Tweets often contained Pro-ED references or language like “thighgap,”
“bikini bridge,” “thinspo,” “bonespo” and “laxies,” an abbreviation
The researchers observed some users taking part in CalorieApril, a
competition for lowest caloric intake, or the ABCdiet, “Ana Boot
On average, about a third of users’ tweets contained pro-ED
references. Half of users had more than 173 followers, and all 45
profiles in total had more than 25,000 followers.
Of the nearly 4,000 followers the researchers selected to study at
random, 40 percent had eating disorder references in their own
profiles. As a user’s ED reference tweets increased, so did their
proportion of ED followers, the authors reported in the Journal of
Pro-Ana online activity “is not a new phenomenon, but it is still a
concern and there is still a lot to understand about it,” Arseniev-Koehler
told Reuters Health by email. “Also, since the rise of social media,
communities like Pro-Ana are much more public and accessible, and we
see more mainstream offshoots such as Thinspiration.”
It is hard to tell how much this online activity influences behavior
change for people, she said.
“Such online communities could have negative influence on young
people with eating disorders, so it would be important to provide
educational and referral information regarding eating disorders at
websites with professional input,” said Kathleen Ries Merikangas of
the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, who
was not part of the new study.
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Parents should be encouraged to make such information available to
adolescents, Merikangas told Reuters Health by email.
“Pro-ED Twitter profiles tended to hold an audience of followers
also interested in EDs,” Arseniev-Koehler said. “But we couldn’t
infer how much this was driven by influence, and how much was
because individuals with pre-existing Pro-ED attitudes found a
like-minded community on Twitter.”
“There have been efforts to censor Pro-Ana and related material on
other online platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, but it's not
clear how effective or helpful censorship is,” Arseniev-Koehler
Censoring further stigmatizes people who may already be struggling
with stigma surrounding EDs, who would benefit more from support
than from stigma, she said.
“I think it is really important not to sensationalize Pro-ED and its
potential risks,” she said.
“There are also a number of Pro-Recovery and other communities with
more healthful attitudes toward body image, diet and fitness, such
as Proud2Bme,” she said. “These are really wonderful resources to
get healthful support and information.”
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1T0MtmY Journal of Adolescent Health, online
April 12, 2016.
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