The Rising Impact of Social Media on Female Athletes’ Eating Disorders

KEY TAKEAWAYS
Social media is exacerbating eating disorders among female athletes by endorsing unrealistic body standards and promoting "fitspiration."
Negative body image is present in nearly all sports, especially at the high school level, and unrealistic standards frequently lead to disordered eating and self-destructive behaviors.
Potential solutions to this pervasive issue include providing healthy eating and nutrition guidance to young women, educating them about diverse body shapes, and developing education programs like SPRING.
Parents and coaches play a vital role in helping young athletes maintain a healthy relationship with their bodies by encouraging open communication, providing support, and fostering a positive environment.
Social media platforms like YouTube are revising their guidelines to further disallow content with imitable behavior that could influence vulnerable individuals, and other social media platforms are encouraged to follow suit and implement stricter policies to protect users from harmful content.

 

New research reveals an alarming trend where social media is exacerbating eating disorders among female athletes by endorsing unrealistic body standards.

These findings stem from interviews carried out by researchers at Rocky Vista University in Colorado, who spoke with athletes who shared distressing accounts of the extreme measures they took to adhere to these standards.

The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection

The study underscores how platforms like Instagram and Facebook have intensified the pressure on young women to achieve “perfect” bodies.

Researchers argue that fitness influencers, celebrities, and fashion models often spread false information and present photoshopped, unattainable body images.

This phenomenon, commonly referred to as “fitspiration,” is increasingly prevalent across various social media platforms.

Dr. Kathryn Vidlock, a family medicine expert at Rocky Vista University, highlights the issue of influencers who lack the necessary qualifications to provide accurate health information.

Coupled with the widespread use of photo-editing tools, numerous young adults feel obligated to pursue unrealistic body types, turning to harmful and restrictive diets to do so.

The Widespread Prevalence of Eating Disorders Among Athletes

Several world-class athletes have come forward to discuss their battles with eating disorders. Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins and former American elite gymnast Vanessa Atler are among those who have shared their experiences.

Negative body image is present in nearly all sports, especially at the high school level, and unrealistic standards frequently lead to disordered eating and self-destructive behaviors.

Dr. Kathryn Vidlock, a family medicine expert at Rocky Vista University, highlights the issue of influencers who lack the necessary qualifications to provide accurate health information.

A Comprehensive Approach to Addressing the Issue in Women’s Sports

In their book, “Spring Forward: Balanced Eating, Exercise and Body Image in Sport for Female Athletes,” the researchers detail potential solutions to this pervasive issue.

They propose providing healthy eating and nutrition guidance to young women, from secondary school to elite athlete level, and educating them about diverse body shapes.

The authors have also developed the SPRING (Strength and Positivity Rooted in Nutrition for Girls) education program for high schools.

The program aims to increase body image “flexibility,” enabling confidence in one’s body regardless of size or shape.

Data from the authors’ research suggests that SPRING has led to a 22% increase in body image flexibility among cheerleaders in Colorado schools.

The Role of Parents and Coaches in Preventing Eating Disorders

Parents and coaches play a vital role in helping young athletes maintain a healthy relationship with their bodies. Encouraging open communication, providing support, and fostering a positive environment are essential steps in preventing eating disorders.

By focusing on performance and overall well-being rather than appearance, parents and coaches can help young athletes build resilience against the pressures of social media.

Social Media Platforms Taking Action

In response to the influence of social media on eating disorders, YouTube has revised its guidelines concerning content related to such behaviors.

The video-sharing platform already had community guidelines prohibiting content promoting eating disorders, but new guidelines are planned to further disallow content with imitable behavior that could influence vulnerable individuals.

This includes content depicting restrictive eating behavior, calorie restriction, purging, and weight-based bullying related to eating disorders.

Other social media platforms are encouraged to follow suit and implement stricter policies to protect users from harmful content that promotes unrealistic body standards and disordered eating behaviors.

By promoting healthy body image and fostering a supportive online community, these platforms can help mitigate the negative impact of social media on female athletes and young adults in general.

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