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Teens Often Bullied Online About Their Weight: Study
  • Posted April 18, 2024

Teens Often Bullied Online About Their Weight: Study

Teenagers are frequently bullied about their weight on social media, and the bullying increases with each hour they spend on these sites, a new study reveals.

Nearly one in five teens (17%) said they'd experienced weight-related bullying online, according to results published April 17 in the journal PLOS One.

“This experience can have adverse effects, including poor body image, disordered eating behaviors and anxiety and depression symptoms,” said the research team led by David Hammond. He's a professor with the University of Waterloo School of Public Health Sciences in Ontario, Canada.

Further, each additional hour of social media use brought with it a 13% increase in weight-related bullying, researchers calculated.

“Notably, greater time spent on screens [was] associated with a greater prevalence of experiencing weight-related bullying,” the researchers reported. 

Twitter, now known as X, was the most toxic site, with teens there 69% more likely to be bullied regarding their weight.

However, Twitter was also the least-used social media platform among teens, with only 22% saying they used it.

But more popular social media sites also had an increased risk of bullying over weight, researchers found:

  • Instagram, used by 55% of teens, had a 35% increased risk of weight bullying

  • Facebook, used by 50% of teens, had a 39% increased risk

  • TikTok, used by 49% of teens, had a 26% increased risk

  • Snapchat, used by 38% of teens, had a 25% increased risk

The video live-streaming service Twitch, which focuses mainly on video gaming, was used by only 12% of teens but carried the second-highest rate of weight bullying. Users there were 49% more likely to be exposed to such bullying.

For the study, researchers analyzed survey data for more than 12,000 teens in Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States. Overall, teens spent an average of 7.5 hours on recreational screen time every weekday.

Associations between screen time, social media use and weight-related bullying were strongest for teens in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

These results show “there is a strong need to make social media and online spaces more accepting and safer for young people to engage in,” the researchers said.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about weight stigma.

SOURCE: PLOS One, news release, April 17, 2024

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