This weekend the Independent on Sunday exclusively revealed figures that shown that the number of teenagers and young people with eating disorders had soared by 110% in the last three years. It is the latest in a series of articles highlighting the growing rise of eating disorders among the younger generation.
According to recent reports the internet and social media websites like Facebook and Twitter are contributing to the growing trend in sufferers, particularly among young girls. It's an interesting suggestion and I for one have divided views on whether the internet is a major factor as it is made out to be.
Most parents will be familiar with the constant engagement to social media sites via their laptops, tablets and mobile phones. ChildLine says it received more than 10,500 calls and online inquiries from young people struggling with food and weight-related anxiety in the last financial year. The charity believes this dramatic increase could be attributed to several factors, including the increased pressure caused by social media, the growth of celebrity culture, and the rise of anorexia websites. Okay, it's understandable that it plays a part in contributing to the pressures but are social media sites entirely to blame?
In reality, eating disorders are a result of a combination and culmination of factors build up over time. Peer pressure and identity can play a major part as can relationships, family troubles and academic concerns.
One of the advantages of the internet is that is the most convenient and accessible means of communication for support. Childline said the proportion of children and young people who have used online channels to talk about eating problems was higher last year than for any other concern, giving an indication of how this issue is being played out on the internet. More than eight out of 10 of ChildLine's counselling sessions about eating problems took place online, compared with only 19% via the phone.
So if the internet is the part of the problem troubling children and young people, then surely it is also part of the solution to tackling eating disorders?
Dr Nadia Micali, senior lecturer at University College London, was lead author of research on the pressures young people with eating disorders face. She said it was not yet clear whether the growth was down to increased awareness leading to more diagnoses or an actual rise in cases caused by factors such as social pressures. But she acknowledged: One of the issues seems to be around a growing peer pressure to be thin."
Speaking on the potential dangers of the internet, she said: "Social media is very new and we haven't been able, as scientists, to fully examine the impact of social media and the internet. It's one of those things where if it's not controlled it could be harmful, but it potentially could be used by healthcare professionals in a good way."
The dangers of the internet may be largely understood but due to the lack of evidence, it's questionable to claim that social media sites are the 'cause?' Instead of trying to point the finger it's better to focus our attention on understanding why young sufferers are developing eating disorders in the first place.
After-all, eating disorders are not simple and to assume any one factor is to blame undermines the complexity of the mental illnesses...