“I just want to be skinny.”: A content analysis of tweets expressing eating disorder symptoms

Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, Melissa J. Krauss, Shaina J. Costello, Nina Kaiser, Elizabeth S. Cahn, Ellen E. Fitzsimmons-Craft, Denise E. Wilfley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


There is increasing concern about online communities that promote eating disorder (ED) behaviors through messages and/or images that encourage a “thin ideal” (i.e., promotion of thinness as attractive) and harmful weight loss/weight control practices. The purpose of this paper is to assess the content of body image and ED-related content on Twitter and provide a deeper understanding of EDs that may be used for future studies and online-based interventions. Tweets containing ED or body image-related keywords were collected from January 1-January 31, 2015 (N = 28,642). A random sample (n = 3000) was assessed for expressions of behaviors that align with subscales of the Eating Disorder Examination (EDE) 16.0. Demographic characteristics were inferred using a social media analytics company. The comprehensive research that we conducted indicated that 2,584 of the 3,000 tweets were ED-related; 65% expressed a preoccupation with body shape, 13% displayed issues related to food/eating/calories, and 4% expressed placing a high level of importance on body weight. Most tweets were sent by girls (90%) who were 19 years old (77%). Our findings stress a need to better understand if and how ED-related content on social media can be used for targeting prevention and intervention messages towards those who are in-need and could potentially benefit from these efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0207506
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019


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