Social media, body image and food choices in healthy young adults: A mixed methods systematic review

Kim Rounsefell, Simone Gibson, Siân McLean, Merran Blair, Annika Molenaar, Linda Brennan, Helen Truby, Tracy A. McCaffrey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Aim: Negative body image increases the risk of engaging in unhealthy dieting and disordered eating patterns. This review evaluated the impact of habitual social media engagement or exposure to image-related content on body image and food choices in healthy young adults (18-30 years). Methods: A systematic search of six databases of observational literature published 2005-2019, was conducted (PROSPERO Registration No. CRD42016036588). Inclusion criteria were: studies reporting social media engagement (posting, liking, commenting) or exposure to image-related content in healthy young adults. Outcomes were: body image (satisfaction or dissatisfaction) and food choices (healthy eating, dieting/restricting, overeating/binging). Two authors independently screened, coded and evaluated studies for methodological quality. Results: Thirty studies were identified (n = 11 125 participants). Quantitative analysis (n = 26) identified social media engagement or exposure to image-related content was associated with higher body dissatisfaction, dieting/restricting food, overeating, and choosing healthy foods. Qualitative analysis (n = 4) identified five themes: (i) social media encourages comparison between users, (ii) comparisons heighten feelings about the body, (iii) young adults modify their appearance to portray a perceived ideal image, (iv) young adults are aware of social media's impact on body image and food choices, however, (v) external validation via social media is pursued. Most studies (n = 17) controlled for some confounding variables (age, gender, BMI, ethnicity). Conclusions: Social media engagement or exposure to image-related content may negatively impact body image and food choice in some healthy young adults. Health professionals designing social media campaigns for young adults should consider image-related content, to not heighten body dissatisfaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-40
Number of pages22
JournalNutrition and Dietetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • body image
  • disordered eating
  • self-objectification
  • social comparison
  • social media
  • social networking sites

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