Interpersonal interactions on online forums addressing eating concerns

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
International Journal of Eating Disorders (Impact Factor: 3.03). 11/2009; 43(2):161-70. DOI: 10.1002/eat.20629
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Although some research suggests that online eating disorder forums promote "pro-eating-disorder" lifestyles and discourage recovery, other research suggests that such forums are an important source of interpersonal support. The current study extends this research by exploring the positive and negative behaviors encouraged on these forums and by comparing forum members' perceptions of support received from online and offline relationships to support received in relationships of age-matched controls.
In a survey of 60 forum members, we assessed information exchanged and support provided on eating disorder forums. Further, we assessed perceptions of social support for general and specific life concerns in this group of forum members as well as 64 age-matched university controls.
Results show that both adaptive and maladaptive behaviors are encouraged on the forums, and that this encouragement has some influence on forum members trying out these behaviors. Overall, forum members reported receiving less support for their eating concerns as compared to their general life stressors, and they perceived less support for both their general concerns and eating concerns in their offline relationships as compared to their online forum relationships. Moreover, forum members reported receiving less support from their offline relationships as compared to support received in relationships by age-matched controls.
Forum members perceive less support in their important relationships than other peers do, and they seek out and participate in forums as a means of attaining greater social support. However, our research suggests that these forums also encourage dysregulated eating behaviors. Implications of online forum support and its impact on recovery are discussed further.

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    • ", for example, maintains that these websites encourage a sense of belonging amongst members, which might explain their popularity and the reasons why individuals use them. In the last few years, an interpretation of pro-ana websites in terms of interactions, networks and social capital has also surfaced (Alkmin Reis, 2008; Tierney, 2008), accompanied by the idea that personal interactions on-and offline may affect each other (Ransom et al., 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: This paper offers a methodical review of the scientific literature of the last decade that concerns itself with online services offering supportive advocacy for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (‘pro-ana’ and ‘pro-mia’). The main question is whether these studies reproduce the traditional divide in the study of eating disorders, between clinical and social science perspectives, with limited mutual exchanges. Having first identified a specific body of literature, the authors investigate its content, methods and approaches, and analyse the network of cross-citations the components generate and share. On this basis, the authors argue that the scientific literature touching on pro-ana websites can be regarded as a single transdisciplinary body of knowledge. What’s more, they show that the literature on computer-mediated sociabilities centred on eating disorders displays different structural characteristics with respect to the traditional, non-Web-related research on eating disorders. In the latter, the social sciences have usually provided a critical counterpoint to the development of a health sciences mainstream. In the case of Web-related research, however, the social sciences have taken the lead role in defining the field, with the health sciences following suit.
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    • "Pro-eating disorder websites can also offer various forms of support to users that are not available from their face-to-face contacts (Ransom et al., 2010). Although it is sometimes directed towards recovery, more often it involves encouragement to lose weight and maintain restrictive eating patterns (Csipke and Horne, 2007). "
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