Body of Evidence Points to Danger for Adolescents

Social media has numerous downsides, one of which is the focus of an important new study: weight-related bullying among teens.


Screen time and social media use have increased by 17% since COVID-19. While both offer avenues for connection and support, their overuse has been associated with several drawbacks, including decreased physical activity and a higher body mass index. Moreover, cyberbullying has become a significant problem due to the rise in screen time and social media use, especially among adolescents.

Prior research has documented that weight-related bullying, specifically, is prevalent in online spaces. However, there’s a shortage of studies explicitly addressing weight-related bullying among teens.

Thus, researchers from the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto and elsewhere set out to explore how screen time and social media use correlate with weight-related bullying among adolescents. Their study was published in PLOS ONE.

The researchers used the International Food Policy Study Youth Survey, conducted in 2022 across six middle- to high-income countries, to investigate the associations between screen time, social media use, and weight-related bullying across participants aged 10 to 17. Over 12,000 youths were included in the study, and social media use was assessed based on weekday hours spent on various platforms. Weight-related bullying was measured by asking: “Do you get teased or made fun of because of your weight?”

Of the participants, 17% reported experiencing weight-related bullying. More hours spent on social media, particularly on platforms like X (previously Twitter), were strongly associated with weight-related bullying. These associations were more pronounced in Canada, Australia, and the UK. Interestingly, males were less likely to experience weight-related bullying than females.

There was a 13% increase in weight-related bullying among teens who logged more screen time and with each additional hour of social media use. Notably, all six social media platforms studied showed a higher prevalence of weight-related bullying.

While the study didn’t directly measure causation, it suggests that extended screen time may expose adolescents to weight stigma, displace their physical activity, and shape attitudes toward body ideals, leading to potential weight-related concerns about themselves and others. Unfortunately, these concerns can result in profound psychosocial consequences, such as disordered eating and body dissatisfaction.

In summary, although social media can provide connection and other benefits, its misuse can have detrimental effects — particularly on vulnerable populations like adolescents, as indicated by the study.

Therefore, it is evident that a safer and healthier online environment is necessary for youth. This can be achieved through promoting digital literacy, fostering supportive online communities, and holding social media platforms accountable. This includes implementing user policies and algorithms to mitigate harmful body and/or weight-related content.

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Alexandria (Alex) Samson is a PhD student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto. She completed her BSc in Neuroscience from Dalhousie University. Alex is a strong believer in open science and is passionate about making scientific research accessible to all audiences.