Researchers recently quizzed 230 active social media users about their thoughts on their own health, fitness and weight. They also asked the participants how regularly fitness posts appeared in their feeds, their thoughts on the kind of people posting and their own tendency to compare themselves to others.
They discovered an interesting relationship between health-related content and those seeing it.
The study – published in the journal Health Communication – found that those who regularly viewed workout posts were more likely to be overly concerned about their own weight compared to participants who didn’t see many fitness posts. Lead author Tricia Burke told TIME that this may translate to lower self-esteem in those exposed to workout posts more regularly.
What’s more, this difference was even more distinct when the viewer considered herself similar to the poster, since perceived similarity may result in more critical comparison about size, fitness and physical ability.
But before you go on an unfollowing rampage, there is some good news. Of the people describing themselves as likely to compare themselves to those they consider superior, seeing health-related posts was linked to a positive attitude towards exercise.
“It might even be a motivating factor,” Burke said.
The takeaway here is that we should all be more aware of the content we're consuming online and how it could be affecting our mentality.
“A lot of us just kind of scroll through and see things passively,” Burke says. “We might not realise that we are internalising it, and that it can be affecting our attitudes about ourselves.”