We Already Knew Social Media is Detrimental for Eating Disorders. Now Let's Get Everyone Access to Care
In light of the Facebook whistleblower events that have taken our society by storm this month, I have simple words to share: we’ve known this all along. In the eating disorder field, we’ve known for over a decade that social media has on young people. We’ve known that the mere act of holding a phone – which most young people do for – exposes young people to toxic messages and images steeped in harmful diet culture that can lead them to tailspin into serious, and often secretive, eating disorders. I should know because I developed anorexia at 10 years old after the experience of .
We’ve known that while eating disorders have the of all mental illnesses and will have one over their lifetime, less than 5% get treatment that works. The status quo treatment options (largely residential treatment centers) are cost-prohibitive for most, and we Research shows that having an outpatient multidisciplinary care team measurably enhances recovery outcomes, but very few providers are trained in evidence-based treatments for eating disorders, and only a small fraction of them take insurance.
Now that our cultural gaze is held on eating disorders and young people – and social platforms are being called to re-evaluate their policies – we must first and foremost turn our focus on ensuring that everyone with an eating disorder has access to affordable and effective eating disorder treatment.
Barriers abound to making that a reality – from pervasive weight stigma and harmful stereotypes to lack of geographic access and affordability. While the trope of a white thin cis-gender woman with anorexia permeates our media and healthcare system, we know that eating disorders affect people equally across , ethnicities, , , sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and abilities.
And we know what needs to be done to unwind these systemic challenges. Evidence-based care like Family-Based Treatment needs to continue to be pulled out of academic circles; telehealth needs to be accepted as a key solution to significantly closing access gaps; insurance companies need to continue taking note and reimbursing for innovative, effective care models; and historically marginalized folks need to receive culturally humble treatment.
There’s sizable work that still needs to be done by our health system and by all of us, in bringing these conversations to bear. For now, a few simple but profound changes in your everyday life can make an impact: pay more attention to the children in your life and the cultural messages they consume; reach out with a loving hand and ear to a friend who makes self-deprecating comments about their body or image; challenge your healthcare provider’s unsolicited weight-related commentary; read up on weight stigma and fatphobia; and encourage loved ones in your community to learn about the evidence-based eating disorder care and to ask for the help they deserve. It’s what we have deserved all along.
About Kristina Saffran
Since recovering from anorexia as a teenager, Kristina has been on a mission to ensure that all families have access to high quality treatment. Kristina co-founded and is an active board member of , an Ashoka Fellow, a Forbes 30 under 30 social entrepreneur, and a Facebook Community Leadership Fellow, and graduated from Harvard College with a bachelors degree in psychology in 2014.
Equip is a virtual eating disorder treatment program helping families recover from eating disorders at home. Equip’s holistic, data-driven, gold-standard care program is delivered by a team of five care professionals, giving families confidence they’re providing the best opportunity for progress and lasting recovery.