By On December 16th, 2015

Despite ‘Pro-Ana’ Trend, YouTube Videos Are Encouraging Teens To Find Eating Disorder Treatment


In the past few years, a dangerous trend has grown that endangers thousands of lives and supports a deadly disease. This so-called “pro-ana” or pro-anorexia trend was especially popular on YouTube, where users would share videos referred to as “thinspiration” which were intended to inspire unhealthy eating in order to be thin.

Source: Luaxan/DeviantArt

Source: Luaxan/DeviantArt

Thankfully, the influence of this trend appears to be on the wane as more teens are finding true help instead of unhealthy “inspiration.” A new Norwegian study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the majority of anorexia-related videos posted to YouTube are now encouraging recovery and warning about the risks of the eating disorder.

The researchers say they were inspired to analyze the nature of the anorexia-related material being shared on social media out of concern that viewers, especially diet-conscious young girls, could be potentially swayed by videos promoting disordered eating behaviors.

Instead, the team found “that anti-anorexia videos were in fact more popular and more positively rated,” compared with pro-anorexia videos.

However, “parents should be aware that it is very easy for children to access potentially harmful material by accident,” said study author Atte Oksanen, a professor of social psychology in the school of social sciences and humanities at the University of Tampere in Finland.

While eating disorders can occur in people of all ages and genders, they often appear in teen or young adult females, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. People at this age can be especially vulnerable and already body-conscious, which can lead to unhealthy behaviors that may develop into eating disorders.

For the study, the team used the “YouTube Data Application Programming Interface” to collect information on the site’s 25 most popular anorexia profiles, both pro and con, between October 2012 and October 2014.

The data included nearly 400 anorexia-related videos, which has accumulated over 12,000 viewer comments in total. The videos originated from a number of countries, but nearly half were from America and the vast majority (94 percent) were made by girls.

By analyzing the data, the researchers saw that anti-anorexia videos which encouraged and supported recovery had garnered 4.8 million views in the time period. In comparison, the “pro-ana” videos had only received 1.5 million views.

The videos encouraging recovery also received significantly more positive feedback than the controversial pro-ana videos, although the researchers say there was no appreciable difference in the frequency of negative comments between the two.

The team concluded that YouTube users/viewers are “more likely to encourage recovery than to advocate unhealthy eating practices.”

However, “parents should be aware of what’s going on online,” Oksanen cautions. “They should be able to talk with their children about these issues and have open dialogue if needed.”

If you think you or someone you know is living with an eating disorder, please call (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and see if treatment is the right path for you or your loved one.

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