Researchers from UWE Bristol, Loughborough University and Bristol Health Partners' Eating Disorders Health Integration Team (HIT) have teamed up with UK charity Beat to create an animated video that explores how social media affects people with an eating disorder.
The short film looks at how social media can be both harmful and helpful, and provides useful advice for those being negatively affected by what they see online and to support recovery.
Produced by a dozen eggs, an up-and-coming design company by Loughborough graduates, and funded by the Higher Education Innovation Fund, the animation is based on research by Dr Paula Saukko, a Reader in Social Science and Medicine in Loughborough's Criminology, Sociology and Social Policy department.
Dr Saukko, in collaboration with Loughborough’s Dr Val Mitchell and Dr Helen Malson, Associate Professor in Social Psychology at UWE Bristol and co-director of the Eating Disorders HIT, interviewed 31 people with diverse eating disorders during the pandemic – a period that has seen a surge in both social media use and mental health issues.
The team then worked with Beat to translate the research findings into a video.
The video was co-produced with Beat ambassadors Adam Gil, Bre Blackboro, Kel O’Neill and Vicki Butler and incorporates their testimonies on social media use.
Of the project, Dr Saukko said: “It has been a real treat to work on such a practical and creative project and important topic with the inspiring teams from Beat and a dozen eggs. Using the easy multi-media possibilities of social media to chat is vital for keeping in touch and receiving support when not feeling well, especially since eating disorders are often socially isolating. However, social media encourages users to compare themselves to others in terms of looks or success and foments constant engagement, replies and insecurities when others are not responding or reacting.”
She continued: “The video gives top tips on how to keep boundaries on social media by unfollowing content on diets or that fuel negative thoughts and moderating consumption and interaction with friends by muting or switching off when feeling overwhelmed. We hope that the video encourages people with or at risk of eating disorders to reflect on their social media use and adopt a few tips to avoid harm and make the most of their benefits in order to support recovery.”
Dr Saukko and team will evaluate the impact of the video in terms of engagement and experience of users together with Beat after the release.
Colette Mullings, Head of Marketing at Beat, said: “We were extremely pleased to collaborate with a dozen eggs and Loughborough University on this exciting opportunity to provide advice to people with eating disorders on digital media use, and to learn how they engage with recommendations.
“Social media has been both a help and hindrance for those we support: we know that irresponsible content can be very damaging for those unwell or vulnerable to eating disorders, but at the same time we often hear of people benefiting from supportive recovery communities, especially during the pandemic.
“We are eagerly awaiting the results, and hope that the video gives viewers encouragement to continue engaging with positive communities, but also to switch off when needed.”