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Reducing Social Media Use Improves Appearance and Weight Esteem in Youth With Emotional Distress

Brief Report – American Psychological Association, Accepted January 4, 2023. Reducing Social Media Use Improves Appearance and Weight Esteem in Youth With Emotional Distress. Helen Thai1 , Christopher G. Davis, Wardah Mahboob, Sabrina Perry, Alex Adams, and Gary S. Goldfield. “Adolescence and young adulthood are vulnerable periods in which mental health challenges often emerge. Cross-sectional research has shown that high social media use (SMU) is associated with poor body image in youth, a known predictor of eating disorders; however, high-quality experimental evidence is scarce, limiting the ability to make causal inferences. The present study experimentally examined the effects of reducing smartphone SMU on appearances and weight esteem in youth with emotional distress. A randomized controlled trial was conducted where 220 participants (17–25 years; 76% female, 23% male, and 1% other) were assigned to either an intervention (SMU limited to 1 hr/day) or control (unrestricted access to SMU) group. SMU was monitored via screen time trackers and submitted daily during 1-week baseline and 3-week intervention periods. Baseline and post-intervention measurements were taken to assess changes in appearance and weight esteem. Compared to the controls, the intervention group yielded significant increases in both appearance ( p , .022) and weight esteem ( p , .026). The intervention group significantly increased in appearance esteem (from M = 2.95 to 3.15, p , .001, dz = 0.33) and weight esteem (from M = 3.16 to 3.32, p , .001, dz = 0.27), whereas the control group did not significantly change (appearance: M = 2.72 to 2.76, p = .992, d z = 0.13; weight: M = 3.01 to 3.02, p = .654, d z = 0.06) from baseline to post-intervention. No effects of gender were detected. Findings suggest that reducing SMU on smartphones may be a feasible and effective method of improving body image in a vulnerable population of youth.”

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