Artificial intelligence tools offer harmful advice on eating disorders

August 28, 2023 – Artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots created to help people with eating disorders have the potential to backfire, instead promoting harmful views of weight loss and diet culture, experts say.

According to an August 17 article in Well + Good, the National Eating Disorders Association launched an AI chatbot in early May intended to teach people experiencing eating disorders coping skills. However, the bot offered users advice for weight loss instead, and it was shut down by the end of the month.

Amanda Raffoul, a researcher at the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital, was one of the experts quoted in the article. She said that in general, online tools may not provide accurate treatment information. “The problem with folks trying to get health and general wellness advice online is that they’re not getting it from a health practitioner who knows about their specific needs, barriers, and other things that may need to be considered,” she said.

Furthermore, because AI tools are trained to generate responses based on text across the entire internet, their answers reflect harmful societal biases. “We know that generally across the internet, across all forms of media, very stigmatizing views about fatness and higher weights are pervasive,” Raffoul said.

Read the Well + Good article: AI Is Now a Destructive Steward of Diet Culture