Evidence of Dysfunctional Eating Behaviors in Content Analysis of Healthy Living Blogs

by Sarah on February 18, 2014 · 11 comments

Y’all know by now I spend a lot of time on Google scholar. The world of a PhD student IS research and a constant reiteration of the phrase “according to the literature” (or some variation thereof).

Y’all also know I have been very interested in–and am currently analyzing the results of my eating and blogging behavior surveythe way that blogging and social media use affect our health behaviors.images-377

Every now and then, I will type in “healthy living blogs” to the Scholar search engine, just to see if anyone else out there is publishing. Imagine my surprise (and quick insertion into my own study’s literature review) to discover that just last month, in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, a study* was published out of the University of South Florida revealing the results of a coded content analysis of 21 of the most popular Healthy Living Blogs?

(Before you ask: no, the actual blogs that were studied were not named. However, they were the most visited blogs of the sample that had won a health-related award during the previous year, and were all written by women who were NOT RDs, nutritionists, personal trainers, or other formally trained health/fitness professionals.)article 3

The investigators were interested in laying groundwork for future research by analyzing blogs in this community based on not only the legitimate health, fitness, and nutrition information presented, but also evidence of disordered eating and exercise-related behaviors and attitudes.

Coding is a research technique that allows for quantifying observational data. It’s often used when analyzing videotapes of human interaction in a lab or other naturalistic studies; it can, as in this study, also be used to assess large amounts of written documents or visual presentations. For this study, the investigator use “constructed week” sampling, which is a randomized selection of blog entries from the entire year to create a generalizeable ‘week in the life’ of that blog. The entries from that constructed week and also any “About Me” pages were coded and analyzed, along with given demographic information.

The variables that were assessed and coded were divided into four categories: appearance (exercise images, beauty, self-objectifying phrases), thin appearance-ideal (fat stigmatization, thin praise), disordered food/nutrition (guilt-inducing messages, food substitution, dieting, restraint), and health (medical information, general topics, health histories). These variables were chosen from previous research that assessed media presentations of dysfunctional behaviors and research regarding diet mentality and disordered eating.

Results showed a high prevalence of appearance, thin-ideal, and disordered food messages being shared, and very little by way of actual health information.

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I am sharing this with y’all not to poke fingers or place blame. I’m sure if I went back and coded my own blog, I’d find much of the same. The purpose of knowing this, however, is to recognize that we may be normalizing behaviors that–according to research–actually have the potential to be quite unhealthy. 

Just some food for thought.

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The study, if you can get access to it:

*Boepple, L., & Thompson, J. K. (2014). A content analysis of healthy living blogs: Evidence of content thematically consistent with dysfunctional eating attitudes and behaviors. International Journal of Eating Disorders.

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