Interpersonal Interactions on Online Forums Addressing Eating Concerns

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
International Journal of Eating Disorders (Impact Factor: 3.13). 11/2009; 43(2):161-70. DOI: 10.1002/eat.20629
Source: PubMed


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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    • "By collecting information from users of these sites through email exchanges, those users reported receiving more support for other stressors in their lives than regarding their concerns associated with food. They also reported receiving less support in their offline relationships (ie, in face-to-face interactions with people who live in their social environment) than from people they know online, both in terms of their general concerns and their eating-related difficulties.29 "
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    ABSTRACT: Aims: This study aimed to analyze the scientific literature about social networks and social support in eating disorders (ED). Methods: By combining keywords, an integrative review was performed. It included publications from 2006–2013, retrieved from the MEDLINE, LILACS, PsycINFO, and CINAHL databases. The selection of articles was based on preestablished inclusion and exclusion criteria. Results: A total of 24 articles were selected for data extraction. There was a predominance of studies that used nonexperimental and descriptive designs, and which were published in international journals. This review provided evidence of the fact that fully consolidated literature regarding social support and social networks in patients with ED is not available, given the small number of studies dedicated to the subject. We identified evidence that the family social network of patients with ED has been widely explored by the literature, although there is a lack of studies about other networks and sources of social support outside the family. Conclusion: The evidence presented in this study shows the need to include other social networks in health care. This expansion beyond family networks would include significant others – such as friends, colleagues, neighbors, people from religious groups, among others – who could help the individual coping with the disorder. The study also highlights the need for future research on this topic, as well as a need for greater investment in publications on the various dimensions of social support and social networks.
    Full-text · Article · May 2014 · Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment
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    • "Les chercheurs qui s'intéressent aux forums sur Internet soulignent l'importance de mieux cerner les caractéristiques des usagers et de comprendre la signification de la participation dans ces espaces d'échange, tant sur le plan de l'expérience des interactions avec les pairs que de l'acquisition de connaissances et de leur mobilisation dans le quotidien (Thoër, 2012). Différents chercheurs, notamment dans le domaine de la santé, ont donc décidé de réaliser des entrevues ou des enquêtes auprès des usagers de forums, qu'ils recrutent à même ces espaces (voir par exemple, Murguia et Tackett-Gibson, 2007; Ransom et al., 2010). C'est aussi la stratégie que nous avons adoptée dans la deuxième phase de la recherche. "
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    ABSTRACT: Using Internet as research material raises new ethical issues in social science research. In the area of health, the study of online spaces creates some specific ethical challenges that are related to the special sensitivity of the practices and the very nature of the research material. The objective of this article is to address the ethical issues raised by the study of two online discussion forums where young adults exchange about using drugs for sensation-seeking and cognitive enhancement. We highlight and discuss six ethical issues related to 1) accessing online exchanges, 2) recruiting interview participants, 3) collecting free and informed consent, 4) maintaining contact with participants, 5) managing risks of participating in the research, and 6) diffusing and presenting research findings.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2012
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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.
    Full-text · Article · Mar 2012 · Social Science Information
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