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Tuesday, January 17 2023

Social media: lowered self-esteem and higher risk of symptoms associated with eating disorders in adolescents

MONTREAL, January 17th, 2023 – A new study conducted by Patricia J. Conrod, researcher at the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre, shows that an increase in social media use is associated with a decrease in self-esteem and a growth of symptoms associated with eating disorders among adolescents. This worrisome situation occurs during a crucial period of adolescent development and continues over time.

The study has been published in the journal Psychology & Health.

Screen time and self-esteem were known to influence the development of symptoms associated with eating disorders among children. But no study took into account the use of different screen types (television, social media, video games) and the persistence of the impacts over time.

This study confirms that the biggest screen time users are the most likely to have low self-esteem, starting in the first year of use. This effect is particularly pronounced among social media users, whose lowered self-esteem persists and leads to a marked increase in symptoms associated with eating disorders two years later.

Social media appears to have a profound impact on young people's views of themselves. Prolonged exposure to and sharing of peer-generated images promoting unrealistic standards of beauty and slimness lead to concerns about body image and weight. Through promotion of images depicting so-called perfect bodies, leading to continuous reinforcement of those images that are most popular, social media contribute to the creation of a distorted representation of society. 

"It is urgent that social media platforms collaborate transparently with scientists. The owners of media platforms will have to choose between profit and the mental health of their users, in order to quickly find solutions to mitigate the physical and psychological effects of social networks on young people," says Patricia J. Conrod, also a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Université de Montréal. "Until now, researchers have had no access to the structure and inner workings of these platforms," she points out. "While waiting for more openness, we must nevertheless make young people aware of their insidious effects," she concludes.

More and more young people are choosing platforms that prevent photos from being re-shared and encourage users to present more realistic images in a normal environment.

A total of 3800 young people in thirty high schools in the Greater Montreal area were surveyed annually over a period of 5 years as part of this study.

© CHU Sainte-Justine (Véronique Lavoie)

About the study

The article "Pathways from adolescent screen time to eating related symptoms: a multilevel longitudinal mediation analysis through self-esteem " by Audrey Livet, Elroy Boers, Flavie Laroque, Mohammad H. Afzali, Gail McVey, and Patricia J. Conrod, was published on November 7, 2022, in the journal Psychology & Health. The study was conducted without specific funding.


The CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre is a leading mother-child research institution affiliated with the Université de Montréal. It brings together more than 210 research investigators, including over 110 clinician-scientists, as well as 450 graduate and postgraduate students focused on finding innovative prevention means, faster and less invasive treatments, as well as personalized approaches to medicine. The centre is an integral part of CHU Sainte-Justine, which is the largest mother-child centre in Canada.


Nathalie Prud’homme
Science Popularizer/Communicator
CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre

Media contact

Justine Mondoux-Turcotte 
Consultant – Media and External Relations
CHU Sainte-Justine

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Updated on 1/18/2023
Created on 1/16/2023
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