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The present study by Walker et al. (2015) was aimed at evaluating the correlation between the use of social media, such as Facebook, and disordered eating in college-aged young women. The researchers’ theory was that negative Facebook experience could affect the body image and provoke the development of eating disorders in young women. This report aims to present an extensive summary of the study, addressing elements such as scope and importance, researchers’ hypothesis, method, results, and discussion.
The authors outline that the main reason as to why the study of the effects of social media on eating disorders is important is the number of time adolescents and young adults spend on the Internet (Walker et al., 2015, p. 162). However, they do not fully discuss the possibility of using the results of their research to develop prevention or intervention strategies, which is one of the study’s drawbacks. There is a potential to use this type of research not just to increase the understanding of the issue, but also to support strategies for solving it, and the fact that the authors did not address that makes their explanation of the importance of the study and the topic quite limited.
Despite the fact that the researchers did not provide a crisp statement of purpose for this study, from the material provided, it is clear that their aim was to develop an understanding of the association between Facebook use and disordered eating. The scope of the study could be divided into three main areas. First, the authors decided to expand on the previous research by examining Facebook use intensity and its impact on disordered eating. Walker et al. (2015) note that the concept of Facebook intensity has not been studied in relation to eating disorders prevalence (p. 158). However, the authors do not provide a clear justification as to why Facebook intensity was a vital element to study. Secondly, the authors focused on the role of online physical appearance.
The authors clearly explain the justification for the interest in this factor based on previous studies, but also show why the exploration can turn out to be inconclusive, explaining that it would be difficult to distinguish whether the negative effect was driven by social comparisons or physical appearance comparisons (Walker et al., 2015, p. 158). The final area that Walker et al. (2015) decided to include in the scope of the study was the role of Facebook fat talk on disordered eating. They clarify the term: “Fat talk refers to negative talk about body size and shape while emphasizing a societal ideal toward thinness” (Walker et al., 2015, p. 158). The authors also state the increasing occurrence of fat talk on social media and refer to previous research to provide an explanation of the perceived effect of fat talk on body dissatisfaction and disordered eating (Walker et al., 2015, p. 158). The researchers also summarize the previous explanations, thereby providing a distinctive sentence of scope for their study.
The authors clearly identify their hypotheses along with the scope of research and use previous studies to support them. For instance, the authors explain why Facebook intensity could have an effect on young females’ disordered eating, referring to the proven effect of Facebook use on body image (Walker et al., 2015, p. 158).
They also use previous research to justify the relationship between online physical appearance comparison and body image concerns leading to disordered eating, as well as to explain the perceived effect of fat talk on disordered behaviors (Walker et al., 2015, p. 158). The previous studies used by the researchers are relatively recent and come from trustworthy sources, thus creating a solid basis for the authors’ hypotheses.
Walker et al. (2015) recruited 169 participants from several universities via institution announcements and through social media websites, such as Twitter and Facebook). The participants were chosen on the basis of age (18-23), female gender (self-reported), enrollment in college, and the ownership of an active Facebook account. The participants were then required to complete an extensive web-based survey consisting of 185 questions. The questions included a 36-item eating disorder questionnaire, a Facebook intensity scale, an online physical appearance comparison scale, and an online fat talk scale. The participants were also required to enter their body mass index and complete depression and anxiety inventories, as well as other scales, to determine the presence of any covaries affecting the results of the study. The vast majority of the scales and questionnaires used by the authors were previously used and proved to be reliable. The survey data was then analyzed using SPSS Statistics software and further mediation analysis.
The results of the study supported some of the authors’ hypotheses and contradicted others. For example, the authors found that in the absence of physical appearance comparison factor, the intensity of Facebook use had an adverse effect on the symptoms of eating disorders (Walker et al., 2015, p. 161). The study also proved that online physical appearance comparison had a positive association with disordered eating, while fat talk did not have a significant influence on disordered behavior. The findings of the study are presented in a clear and coherent manner.
The researchers discuss the findings and the limitations of their study, but the discussion is not extensive. They show how the findings extend and contrast the existing research and explain the newly found role of Facebook intensity as a mediator of disordered behavior rather than the trigger of it: “College-aged women who endorsed greater Facebook intensity were significantly less likely to report disordered eating behaviors in the absence of physical appearance comparison” (Walker et al., 2015, p. 161). The researchers also explain why there is a clear difference between their results and the previous research, stating that this might be due to the different ways that the participants used Facebook, which is why the amount of time spent on the site is not a reliable predictor (Walker et al., 2015, p. 161). Walker et al. (2015) proceed to explain the limitations of their study. First, the study did not examine offline physical appearance comparison and fat talk, which could have influenced the results dramatically. Secondly, the data included in the research was self-reported, which created a possibility of the results being biased. Finally, the studied sample was quite small, which is why it is’hard to generalize the findings of the survey. The researchers indicated that further research of physical appearance comparison on other social media; however, further research should concentrate on the possible uses for the results in treating and preventing disordered eating.
Walker, M., Thornton, L., De Choudhury, M., Teevan, J., Bulik, C. M., Levinson, C. A., & Zervas, S. (2015). Facebook use and disordered eating in college-age women. Journal of Adolescent Health, 57(2), 157-163.