Friday, September 15, 2023

Cyberbullying Linked to Eating Disorder Symptoms in Youth

Youth who are cyberbullied or cyberbully others may be more likely to report disordered eating behaviors than those who are not involved with such bullying, a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders has found.

Jason M. Nagata, M.D., M.Sc., of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues analyzed data from 10,258 participants in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, who were about 12 years old. As part of the ABCD study, the adolescents completed a self-reported questionnaire to capture lifetime cyberbullying (victimization and perpetration) using a modified version of the Cyberbullying Scale. They also completed the Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia, which categorizes child and adolescent mental health concerns, including eating disorder symptoms.

Overall, 9.5% of the adolescents had been cyberbullied, and 1.1% had cyberbullied others. The prevalence of eating disorder symptoms varied between 1.5% and 7.5%.

Adolescents who had been cyberbullied had roughly twice the rate of weight-related concerns as those who had not. These concerns included worrying about weight gain (prevalence ratio [PR] 2.41), feeling their self-worth was tied to their weight (PR 2.08), engaging in inappropriate compensatory behavior to prevent weight gain (for example, throwing up or overexercising; PR 1.95), binge eating (PR 1.95), and feeling distress with binge-eating (PR 2.64).

Adolescents who perpetrated cyberbullying had even higher rates of most of these concerns compared with those who had not perpetrated cyberbullying, including worrying about weight gain (PR 3.52), feeling their self-worth tied to their weight (PR 5.59), binge eating (PR 2.36), and feeling distress with binge eating (PR 2.84). However, there was no significant difference between those who perpetrated cyberbullying and those who did not with respect to engaging in inappropriate compensatory behavior to prevent weight gain.

Nagata and colleagues wrote that their findings have significant implications for public policy, public health, and clinical practice.

“In particular, our study supports the use of strategies to teach early adolescents methods to navigate negative appearance-related online comments,” they wrote. “Furthermore, adolescents who have experienced cyberbullying could benefit from eating disorder prevention programs to minimize the risk of eating disorder development.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Youth Online Behavior Offers Clues to Suicidality.”

(Image: iStock/SeventyFour)

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