Commentary

Heavy Social Media Use Linked With Body Image Issues

This week brings yet another study suggesting that heavy social media use is correlated with a range of negative psychological outcomes including negative body image, though as always it should be noted that correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation – meaning social media overuse could just as easily be a symptom of these emotional woes as a contributing factor.

The British government’s Office for National Statistics surveyed 3,500 children ages 10-15 about a number of behaviors, including different kinds of media consumption, as well as self-reported measures of mental health. Among respondents who said they spent three or more hours per night on social media, just 53% said they liked their own appearances, compared to 82% of respondents who used social media less often. Meanwhile 5% of heavy users said they don’t feel like they receive any support from their families, versus just 1% for light users.

Overall, girls were twice as likely as male counterparts to use social media for three hours or more every evening, at 11% versus 5%.

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The ONS study uncovered a number of other troubling correlations: for example, 44% of respondents who use social media for more than three hours a day said they fight with their parents at least once a week, while respondents who use social media less often were just half as likely to do so. Heavy social media users were also more likely to skip school than lighter users, at 14% and 6%, respectively, and also twice as likely to cause disruptions in school.

A previous study by the ONS found that heavy social media users were significantly more likely to experience mental health problems than lighter users, at 27% versus 11%. But as noted these results don’t prove that social media is causing depression: kids who are already experiencing mental health issues may gravitate to social media for comfort, distraction, or simply out of boredom.
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