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New animation aims to help people with eating disorders safely navigate social media

Researchers from Loughborough University have teamed up with UK charity Beat to create an animated video that explores how social media affects people with an eating disorder.

Animation of a girl surrounded by images from social media.

The animation explores both positive and negative experiences of social media and provides useful tips.

The short film, released today (Monday 13 September), 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 the Criminology, Sociology and Social Policy department.

Dr Saukko, in collaboration with Loughborough’s Dr Val Mitchell and Dr Helen Malson, of Eating Disorders Health Integration Team, Bristol, 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 the 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.”

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk  

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/196

Loughborough University

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

Beat

Beat is the UK’s leading eating disorder charity. 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder at any time, and they impact people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. Our mission is to end the pain and suffering caused by eating disorders. Our national Helpline and online support exist to encourage and empower people to get help quickly, because we know the sooner someone starts treatment, the greater their chance of recovery. We campaign to increase knowledge among healthcare professionals, and to gain funding for high-quality treatment, so that when people are brave enough to take vital steps towards recovery, the right help is available to them. The work we do means that every year lives are saved, families are kept together, and people are able to live free of eating disorders.

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