News & Media

Social media has a role to play in providing support for people suffering from eating disorders

29 June 2021

Statement by Senator Annie Hoey
Spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science

Labour spokesperson on higher education Senator Annie Hoey has written to Facebook and Instagram asking the sites to consider playing a more proactive role in protecting and supporting people suffering from eating disorders. Highlighted the continued failings by Government to provide adequate funding to the treatment of eating disorders, Senator Hoey said that this issue cannot continue to be ignored. We cannot continue to export Irish problems

Senator Hoey said:

“As a former student activist I, like many others, am well aware of the prevalence of eating disorders among our young people. Since being elected to Seanad Éireann I have a had people from all over the country contact me as a member of the Oireachtas Health Committee with their stories of struggle with eating disorders, and their frustration at the lack of facilities available to them as patients. The tsumani of referrals for treatment for eating disorders started long beforthe pandemic, but even still, I am stunned by the explosion in the situation throughout the pandemic. While there are many reasons for this surge, we would be foolish to ignore the influence of so called “diet culture”, which is so widely promoted on social media sites such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. What is most pervasive about this type of information is that it is promoted directly by people who users admire, on a platform they trust.  

“Social media platforms have a huge opportunity to play a role in countering this surge of disinformation about diet culture and body image. We know that it is possible because we have seen them play a similar role in tackling disinformation during the COVID19 pandemic. Instagram has played a very important role in providing information on the COVID-19 pandemic as the situation evolved and developed, particularly in relation to vaccines. The addition of a swipe-up option on any mention of COVID-19 has been a useful way to provide clear, unbiased information to users. We believe there is also an opportunity for it to protect us in the future which is why I’ve written to Facebook and Instagram to ask them to do the same for diet culture.

“If social media platforms take a proactive decision to include information about eating disorders on potentially triggering posts, this could be a strong intervention in its own right. We know that what we see on social media is often idealised, with good angles and better filters. Posts that are altered should be labelled as so. Posts that encourage unhealthy diet and exercise regimes should be accompanied with information labels.

“The reason action is required right now is because the demand for eating disorder treatment has long surpassed the capacity to address it. Figures from Dublin's three main paediatric facilities reveal a 66% rise in children with eating disorders being hospitalised in the first three months of this year.

“Despite this clear and obvious need, the money allocated in budgets is not being spent. The same 3 beds have been available for ED care for over a decade now, despite clear knowledge that eating disorders have the highest mortality and morbidity of all of the mental health conditions. While we absolutely need better and more robust treatment for people with eating disorders from the State, there is also a role for the social media companies that may be affecting people’s body image, self-esteem and triggering of eating disorders.

“We are all concerned about the impact of the pandemic, particularly on our young people. In order to better educate and offer help at the earliest point, social media platforms must act now and ensure anyone presented with information relating to food or dieting will be directed to reliable sources and relevant supports, similar to the swipe-up link that appears when searching for anything COVID-19 related. Social media has played such a vital role in keeping us connected over the past year and a half. I believe there is also an opportunity for it to protect us in the future.

“There is no doubt that Ireland’s health system will need to recruit additional specialists and provide extra resources for community intervention for those suffering from eating disorders, but we believe that by Instagram, and other social media platforms, adding this function, we could see meaningful change for people.”

 

ENDS

 

A copy of the letter is available at this link: https://www.labour.ie/assets/files/pdf/june_2021_letter_sen_annie_hoey_.pdf