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The urgent matter of online pro-eating disorder content and children: clinical practice

Abstract

During the last decade, much concern has been expressed about online pro-eating disorder communities (e.g., pro-anorexia websites and blogs) which encourage their users to engage in disordered eating behavior. The aim of the current paper is to reemphasize the importance of pro-eating disorder communities in light of the recent changes in the media landscape. With the increase of social networking sites, pro-anorexia messages have transplanted to more volatile and constantly changing media, such as Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and many others. Most parents, educators, and health professionals are unaware of the sheer scope and nature of such pro-anorexia messages in these new contexts. The current paper will provide a review of pro-eating disorder websites, overview the effects of such websites on young people’s health, examine the emergence of these messages on social media platforms, and highlight a number of guidelines for clinicians and parents.

Conclusion: The dissemination of online pro-eating disorder content to different types of social networking sites is becoming an urgent issue.

What is Known:
Existing research on pro-eating disorder websites examines the prevalence and the content of these websites, and the effects of pro-eating disorder content on both clinical (eating disordered individuals) and non-clinical samples (non-eating disordered individuals).
The scope and nature of such anorexia messages is unknown to most adults, and many people (including parents and medical professionals) are insufficiently aware of the ease with which young people access, navigate, and use a wide range of online platforms.
What is New:
Pro-anorexia messages are no longer limited to websites that can be easily monitored, but instead have been transplanted to more volatile and constantly changing media such as Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr which makes pro-eating disorder content much more easily accessible.
This paper wants to emphasize the implications of the presence of pro-eating disorder content on websites and social media. A number of guidelines for parents and clinicians are provided.

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Abbreviations

Pro-AN:

Pro-anorexia

Pro-ED:

Pro-eating disorder

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Acknowledgments

The author wants to thank Jenna McNallie for critically reading the manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The author reveals no conflict of interest. This study was funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO).

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Correspondence to Kathleen Custers.

Additional information

Communicated by Jaan Toelen

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Custers, K. The urgent matter of online pro-eating disorder content and children: clinical practice. Eur J Pediatr 174, 429–433 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00431-015-2487-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00431-015-2487-7

Keywords

  • Pro-anorexia
  • Pro-eating disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Internet
  • Social networking sites
  • Thinspiration