Dating apps users ‘more likely to have unhealthy attitudes to weight’

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Men and women who use dating apps may be at increased risk of controlling their weight in unhealthy ways, a study suggests.

The US research, based on a survey of 1,700 adults, found vomiting, laxative use and fasting were most common.

But they said a direct link could not be proved and more research was needed to explore the relationship.

Eating disorder charity Beat said dating app users who may be at risk should be offered support.

Online dating has grown in popularity in recent years, with apps used by men and women to find romantic and sexual partners.

People using the apps evaluate potential partners based on a number of attributes, include physical appearance.

In this study, published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, researchers compared the behaviour of people who used dating apps with those who did not.

They found that dating app users had significantly higher odds of engaging in six unhealthy weight control behaviours – vomiting, using laxatives, fasting, using diet pills, using muscle-building supplements, and using anabolic steroids.

From the 1,726 adults surveyed, 183 women and 209 men said they used dating apps.

In that group, around half of men and women reported fasting to control their weight and one in five women and one in three men said they would vomit for weight control.

One in four women and 40% of men said they used laxatives.

Men who used dating apps were much more likely than women to use steroids and supplements to build up their muscles.

Dr Alvin Tran, lead author of the study from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston, said they also found higher rates of these unhealthy behaviours among ethnic minorities.

However, he said no conclusions could be drawn on the cause of the behaviour or in which direction they worked.

‘Body image concerns’

Dr Tran said: “While we do not know if the people in our study were already engaging in these weight control behaviours before using dating apps, we worry that the use of these image and appearance-focused services could exacerbate those behaviours.

“With the tremendous growth in dating app usage in the US, and an increasing number of studies linking their use to body image concerns and unhealthy weight control behaviours, there is a need to further understand how dating apps influence health behaviours and outcomes.”

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at Beat, said he welcomed research that helped to identify possible triggers of eating disorders.

“Not everyone who uses unhealthy weight control behaviours will have an eating disorder, nor will they get one, but such behaviours can contribute to the development of the illnesses for people who are already vulnerable and can prevent recovery for those who are ill,” he said.

“It is important to note that this research does not prove a causal link between dating apps and unhealthy weight control behaviours. Nevertheless, it is important that dating app users who may be at risk of eating disorders are directed to sources of support.”

 

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