As summer officially kicks off, millions of teens are at risk of being inundated with social media content promoting risky dieting and weight loss in pursuit of a “summer body” or to get “bikini ready.” ParentsTogether researchers spent two hours – far less than the average teen spends in a single day – on social media accounts registered to a 14-year-old girl. In that time, TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram all showed the teen accounts dozens of videos promoting dangerous and extreme behaviors, including extreme calorie restriction, unhealthy weight loss goals, cleanses and other unregulated diet products, plastic surgery, and extremely thin bodies.
Parents should know that social media platforms will show young teens content promoting dangerous dieting and weight loss behaviors, sometimes framed as “summer body” plans. Parents should be aware of their kids’ social media use and talk to them about body diversity, self-acceptance and healthy habits. Below are just a few examples of the dangerous content TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram served to kids in just two hours.
Extremely Thin Bodies
Extreme Calorie Restriction
Unhealthy Weight Loss Goals
Cleanses and Diet Products
Parents should also know this barrage of content promoting risky dieting and weight loss behaviors comes amid a national rise in disordered eating, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems for teens.
- A new advisory from the Surgeon General warns “Social media may perpetuate body dissatisfaction, disordered eating behaviors, social comparison, and low self-esteem, especially among adolescent girls.”
- According to recent research, eating disorder diagnoses in teens have increased 107% since 2018.
- Eating disorders are dangerous. Anorexia has a 10% death rate, higher than almost any other mental illness.
Extreme dieting, weight loss, and eating disorder content continues to be a serious problem on social media, despite years of parents, advocates, and survivors demanding change. A recent poll from Hart Research found that by more than a four to one margin, voters and parents think that the harms of social media outweigh the benefits for children and teens. In the same poll, 73% said it was important for President Biden and Congress to take action to address the impact of social media on young people. ParentsTogether fully supports the US Surgeon general’s following recommendations for policymakers as steps towards reducing extreme dieting and weight loss content targeting kids and teens:
- Develop age-appropriate health and safety standards for technology platforms – including preventing children from accessing harmful content that encourages eating disorders
- Pursue policies that further limit access—in ways that minimize the risk of harm—to social media for all children, including strengthening and enforcing age minimums.
- Ensure technology companies share data relevant to the health impact of their platforms with independent researchers and the public in a manner that is timely, sufficiently detailed, and protects privacy.