Latest news | 28 May 2024

Eating disorder sector present Government with urgent recommendations to improve protections for young people on social media

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Butterfly Foundation, the national charity for eating disorders, in alignment with industry experts and select MPs, is calling on the Government to take immediate action to support young people in Australia when it comes to body image and mental health issues exacerbated by social media.

Tuesday 28 May 2024

  • Almost two thirds (61.7%) of young Australians aged 12-18 said social media made them feel dissatisfied with their body – up by 12% since 2022. [1]
  • 8 in 10 young Australians aged 12-18 thought that social media platforms need to do more to help young people have a more positive body image. [2]
  • 6 in 10 (59%) Australians say diet and fitness content on social media impacts their body image – yet two thirds (68%) aren’t adjusting their social media behaviour. [3]
  • Since 2012 the prevalence of eating disorders in youth aged 10-19 has risen by 86%, with Butterfly Foundation seeing a staggering 275% surge in enquiries to its National Helpline from individuals aged up to 25 (since 2019). [4]
  • The Butterfly Foundation Roundtable proposes 21 recommendations to make social media safer for young people’s body image across the themes of; Legislative Reform, Social Media algorithms, Platform tools and features, Interventions, training, & resources and Research.

Canberra, Australia: Butterfly Foundation today co-hosted a roundtable discussion at Parliament House with Ms Zoe Daniel MP, presenting urgent recommendations to tackle the effects of social media on the body image and mental health of young people in Australia.

The recommendations have been proposed by a working group of eating disorder sector experts, individuals with lived experience and representatives from Meta, who convened after the first social media and body image roundtable was held in parliament in September 2023, hosted by Zoe Daniel, MP.

The key recommendations included modifying the Online Safety (Basic Online Safety Expectations) Determination 2022, amending the Online Safety Act 2021 and requiring social media platforms to be transparent about their algorithms.

The recommendations for legislative modification involved social media platforms being required to explicitly give users the opportunity to reset their generated algorithms easily (and on demand), and supporting the Australian public to report to the eSafety Commissioner when they see material that could negatively affect their body image.

With eating disorders in Australians aged 10-19 rising by 86% since 2012 and a 275% surge in inquiries to Butterfly Foundation in that same period, the issue has never been more prevalent, as young people require greater safeguarding and support for navigating social media.

While there are many factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder, body dissatisfaction is the highest modifiable risk factor, and research has established that social media use can increase body dissatisfaction among young people, particularly image-based social media.

The recent Body Kind Youth Survey report by the Butterfly Foundation reiterated the influence that social media is having on young people in Australia, with 61.7% (aged 12-18) saying social media made them feel dissatisfied with their body – up by 12% since 2022 results. In addition, 80% thought that social media platforms need to do more to help young people have a more positive body image.

Varsha Yajman, who has her own experience of living with an eating disorder and was a roundtable member, said: “My own experience as a woman of colour struggling with an eating disorder, searching for representation and help, has shown me the need for more support for those living with eating disorders and body image issues.

“Social media has been a double-edged sword, telling us we have found a ‘community’ when in reality much of it has detrimentally affected our mental health – our feed filled with weight loss stories, dieting advice or the next best supplement to take, and it’s all consuming.

“To me and so many others, it is clear that social media negatively impacts perceptions of health and contributes to young people experiencing eating disorders – we feel there is no escape from this content. However, my hope is that the incredible work of our Roundtable over the last few months highlights this issue and leads to change.”

Dr. Jim Hungerford, CEO of Butterfly said: “This is a hugely prevalent issue within today’s society. Our latest research showed 27% of people in Australia living with an eating disorder are aged under 19 – a significant increase from 15% in the last Paying the Price Report in 2012. While social media isn’t solely responsible for these figures growing, it certainly plays a part.

“It’s time for the government to take action and start prioritising the mental health of young people in Australia by reforming policies and working closely with social media platforms and independent third parties. We’ve reached a critical juncture with this issue and have done everything we can within our communities, but we need further support.”

Ms Zoe Daniel MP, one of the Co-Chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of Eating Disorders Awareness group said: “The research and statistics looking at young people in Australia living with body image and mental health issues is damning. We know that social media is a big driver when it comes to exacerbating these feelings for young people. We must take steps to address this now.

“Too many young people are being influenced and impacted by content they are seeing across social media platforms and we’re strongly advocating for reform and action. We will take these recommendations to the Government and ask that they strongly consider implementing the changes we have put forward.”

Although several social media companies were encouraged to be part of the Roundtable, only Meta agreed to attend, and contributed to the discussions. Meta was not part of the final recommendations, nor their delivery to Parliament, due to a potential conflict of interest, as some of the recommendations are calling for changes to the social media platforms functionality and reporting.

For the full set of recommendations, please see here: https://butterfly.org.au/get-involved/campaigns/socialmediaroundtable/

 

-ENDS-

Media Contacts
Harriet Potter

Communications Manager

Ph: 0451 837 044

E:  harriet.potter@butterfly.org.au

Patrice Pandeleos

Seven Communications for Butterfly

Ph: 0405 995 050

E: Patrice@sevencommunications.com.au

 

About Butterfly Foundation

Butterfly Foundation is the national charity for all Australians impacted by eating disorders and body image issues, and for the families, friends and communities who support them. Butterfly is on a mission to create a more ‘Body Kind’ Australia, where young people grow up treating their own bodies and all bodies with respect and kindness. Butterfly has been running school prevention and intervention programs for over 17 years, supporting both primary and secondary schools to help kids thrive and learn to love their bodies from a young age.

Editor and producers note

Please include the following support line details in all media coverage of this story and refer to the Mindframe Media guidelines for safe reporting on eating disorders.

Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact:

  • Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) or support@butterfly.org.au
  • Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 23
  • For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14
References

[1] Butterfly Foundation. (2023). Body Kind Youth Survey 2023. Available online: https://butterfly.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/Body-Kind-Youth-Survey-Findings-2023_Full-Report.pdf 

[2] ibid

[3] Pure Profile Research, released by Butterfly Foundation. (2024). https://butterfly.org.au/news/pause-before-you-post-social-media-appearance-led-content-impacting-australians-body-image/

[4] Deloitte Access Economics. (2024). Paying the Price, Second Edition: The economic and social impact of eating disorders in Australia. Report commissioned for Butterfly Foundation. Sydney: Butterfly Foundation.