To help prevent eating disorders, regulate social media algorithms, expert says

April 17, 2023—To halt the rise of eating disorders among Americans, experts say policymakers must focus not only on improving treatment quality and accessibility, but also on prevention. One key tactic toward this goal would be to regulate social media, says Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Amanda Raffoul.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that shows that certain types of social media use can increase the risk of developing disordered eating behaviors, especially for young people,” Raffoul said in an April 7 article in Scripps News.

Raffoul is a postdoctoral researcher with the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED), a partnership between Harvard Chan School and Boston Children’s Hospital focusing on awareness, education, research, and advocacy around eating disorder prevention. She and the STRIPED team have been working to ban the sale of weight loss pills to minors and to push for legislation to help curb youth exposure to online content promoting disordered eating. Raffoul says such legislation could target social media algorithms, which can steer young people toward potentially harmful content even if they’re not seeking it.

“Social media platforms don’t have any sort of legal obligation to release data or details for researchers like myself, or for public health advocates and policymakers,” Raffoul said. “One of the things that our legal team has highlighted as a potential avenue is conducting assessments or audits of what algorithms end up showing to vulnerable youth.”

Read the Scripps News article: Legislators target social media to combat eating disorders