TikTok Could Be Increasing Eating Disorder Risk in Young Users

Popular content on the app may be triggering for vulnerable users

Person standing on a scale
TikTok users say popular content encouraging weight loss can trigger disordered eating behaviors.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Like most aspects of life, TikTok may be contributing to negative body image and eating disorders in young women and girls. Multiple TikTok users in their teens and 20s recently told NBC News that popular content on the app has influenced negative self-image and disordered eating behaviors, such as extreme dieting and exercise.

TikTok users said posts promoting unhealthy eating and exercise habits, drastic weight loss tips and jokes about negative body image are common on the app, with one user comparing the culture on the platform to the pro-anorexia community that was rampant on Tumblr in the early 2010s.

“‘Fitspo’ images are back, unhealthy eating habits are constantly documented, and it can make it really difficult to avoid relapse when you’re randomly shown content that glorifies eating disorders,” TikTok user and body positive activist Melody Young told NBC News. Meanwhile, eating disorder experts agree that TikTok’s culture of copycat content that encourages users to participate in viral trends can make the platform particularly insidious for those vulnerable to disordered eating.

While a spokesperson for TikTok told NBC News that “content that supports or encourages eating disorders is strictly against our Community Guidelines and will be removed,” plenty of posts containing potentially triggering information about dieting, exercise or body image seem to have flown under the radar. According to Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, the organization has received complaints from several TikTok users who say the app contains a trove of triggering content under the guise of healthy weight loss tips or fitness routines.

“When I initially downloaded TikTok, I saw a lot of really, really negative body image videos,” said Brittani Lancaster, a TikTok body positive activist. “It’s not worth it to keep seeing these posts if it’s worsening your mental health.”

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