Nurses’ Potential in Combating Eating Disorders Among Adolescents
Academic Discipline: Nursing
Assignment Subject: Nurses’ potential in combating eating disorders among adolescents
Academic Level: Undergraduate-2nd Year
Referencing Style: APA
Word Count: 2,003
Social media platforms have become increasingly important in the contemporary context, as they represent a highly efficient avenue for real time interaction and communication. Social media platforms are predominantly used by the younger demographic cohort, which has important implications for their psychological wellbeing and development (Barry et al., 2017). Notwithstanding the stated benefits of social media, the platforms are also associated with a pernicious effect among younger users. The focus of this analysis is on one of the more pernicious effects of social media- specifically the promulgation of messages that encourage the development of body image dysmorphia among adolescents. The importance of this topic is that body dysmorphia is arguably the leading cause for the development of eating disorders, which have a disproportionate impact on adolescent females compared to any other demographic group (Jarman et al., 2021).
This essay seeks to discuss the strategies that nursing professionals can use to prevent and/or address the underlying reasons for social-media-induced eating disorders that are prevalent among adolescents. To this end, the next section of the paper presents a brief overview of the research scope, specifically noting the relational dynamics between social media, body dysmorphia, and the development of eating disorders among adolescents. This is ensued by a discussion of the strategies that nursing practitioners can use to assist teenagers dealing with eating disorders. The final section concludes with a rehash of the main arguments and insights. It will be argued that nursing practitioners can assist teenagers with body dysmorphia by leveraging their professional networks; disseminating information about the consequences of body dysmorphia and eating disorders; empowering teenagers to become more comfortable with their natural body types; enabling teenagers to become cognizant of the detrimental effects of both body image dysmorphia and eating disorders; as well as collaborating with other professionals in the healthcare sectors, such as dieticians and counsellors, to provide a viable action plan for teenagers experiencing eating disorders and body image dysmorphia.
Contextual Overview: Social Media, Body Dysmorphia and Eating Disorders
Social media can be paralleled to most forms of popular culture because of its capacity to expose users to a range of lifestyle choices, patterns and behaviours that can influence perceptions about self, others and the environment (Jarman et al., 2021). Adolescent social media users often follow celebrities, social media influencers, and other pseudo-celebrity users who often affect how they perceive themselves. The beauty ideals that are typically parroted and promoted on social media platforms are consistent with the thin body type (specifically for women), which is not solely unique to social media but has also been noted for other, Western popular culture mediums (Danthinne et al., 2022; Milkie, 1999). It is therefore commonplace among adolescents to compare themselves with the beauty images, ideals and standards they observe on social media, which can inadvertently lead to the development of body image dysmorphia.
Body image dysmorphia can be defined as feelings of intense dissatisfaction with one’s physical appearance. In the contemporary context, social media has been highlighted as one of the most significant exposure platforms that lead to the development of body image dysmorphia among adolescents (Danthinne et al., 2022). This is because social media is perceived as an accurate projection of the prevalent social norms for beauty, influencing younger users to adhere to the expected beauty standards in order to fit in (Fardouly & Holland, 2018). As noted earlier, the dominant beauty ideal is that of a thin body type, which alienates girls and women who may not naturally fit with that body type.
One of the most detrimental effects of body image dysmorphia is the development of eating disorders (Marks et al., 2020). This is especially applicable to adolescents who may be overweight or obese, such that they are pressured to reduce their body weight drastically in order to fit within the parameters of Western beauty ideals. Consequently, a substantial number of teenage social media users develop conditions such as bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa, which have severe physical, emotional, and psychological health implications (Marks et al., 2020). According to recent research, an estimated 2.7% of teenagers in the United States have an eating disorder (including Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa) (Polaris Teen Centre, 2018). Moreover, eating disorders can be associated with other comorbidities that can increase the proclivity towards suicidal ideation, among other psychological issues (Marks et al., 2020). The reality that adolescent social media users tend to develop body image dysmorphia, and subsequently eating disorders, highlights the significance of this research topic.
Typical Strategies to Mitigate Against Eating Disorders
According to existing research, eating disorders are typically perceived as psychological problems (Goodyear, 2020; Marks et al., 2020). Consequently, the most cited approach to address challenges of body image dysmorphia and eating disorders is contingent on psychological intervention. Specifically, teenagers experiencing eating disorders are often encouraged to participate in cognitive behavioural training or therapy (CBT), which aims to address the problematic thought patterns that justify the development of the eating disorder (Yasar et al., 2019). Other scholars have noted that eating disorders emerge because of the exposure to popular culture mediums that promote the Western beauty ideal, intimating that this can be redressed by including other body types and encouraging popular culture to refrain from shaming women who do not subscribe to the Western ideals (Milkie, 1999).
Regardless of the attribution of eating disorders to either underlying psychological issues or the disproportionate exposure to Western beauty ideals, the nursing profession is often exempted among practitioners who can combat eating disorders among adolescents. That is, nurses are not perceived as critical actors who can intervene against the development of eating disorders among adolescents. The rest of this paper seeks to challenge this assumption, by demonstrating the ways in which nursing practitioners can intervene to challenge both body image dysmorphia and eating disorders among teenagers. The utility of this discussion is improving the conceptualization of eating disorders, by highlighting the potential value of integrating nurses within potential interventionists.
Nursing Professional Interventions
Nursing practitioners are often the first point of contact with the public, specifically in the context of primary healthcare facilities. Moreover, most schools are now mandated to have some healthcare professionals on their premises, which further explains the importance of nurses as potential interveners against body-dysmorphia-induced eating disorders. In addition, nursing professionals can collaborate with other healthcare professionals in devising a viable intervention for adolescents with eating disorders, which further highlights their potential importance in alleviating some of the negative consequences of social media exposure among adolescents.
The first strategy that nursing professionals can use is to thoroughly understand the development of the eating disorder- necessarily from the vantage point of the teenager. That is, one of the best nursing practices in the contemporary context is the ability to practice through a patient-centric approach, that perceives the patient as capable of relaying their challenges and issues they are currently facing (Lindgren et al., 2020). In either the primary care or school setting, the nursing practitioner can obtain a detailed patient history that notes when and why the eating disorder emerged, and the reasons the adolescent has struggled to cope with body image dysmorphia. A patient-centric approach would be useful because it empowers the patient to understand their own reality, which will eventually lead to the development of a sense of ownership that can be used to address the problematic behaviour (Lindgren et al., 2020).
Second, nursing practitioners can encourage adolescents to maintain a reflective journal documenting their thoughts, feelings and emotions in the aftermath of spending time on social media platforms. This would be especially useful in a school environment and would enable the adolescents to be cognizant of how social media exposure can lead to the development of body image dysmorphia. The second rationale for this strategy is that it would provide an opportunity to highlight negative thoughts and comparison tendencies- thereby redressing unhealthy psychological processes that also lead to the development of body image dysmorphia in the aftermath of social media exposure (Yasar et al., 2019). Consequently, teenagers would be better placed to find positive coping strategies that do not further jeopardize their health outcomes.
The third approach that nurses can use to combat eating disorders among teenagers is through the dissemination of information about eating disorders, focusing on their immediate and long-term health consequences. Although social media can play a role in the development of eating disorders, it does not possess resources that can be effectively used to discourage users from developing eating disorders (Milkie, 1999). As credible healthcare professionals, nurses would have accurate and evidence-based knowledge on the impact of eating disorders on adolescents. They can therefore disseminate information to ensure that teenagers are privy to the effects of eating disorders, to discourage them from applying an extreme reaction to body image dysmorphia.
The fourth strategy that nursing practitioners can use is to expose adolescents to ‘successful’ role models who may not necessarily resonate with the Western beauty ideal of a thin body type. The rationale for this approach is that it would demonstrate that body image is not a prerequisite for social success or acceptance- which some adolescents may be unaware or sceptical of (Goodyear, 2020). Nursing professionals would be useful in designing comprehensive programs that can eventually be integrated within healthcare policy, to mitigate against eating disorders among adolescents. Nurses may be well placed to actively participate in this approach because they meet a high volume of patients and professionals through their work. Moreover, this recommendation would be consistent with the best nursing practice of advocacy for the patient (Lindgren, 2020). That is, the nurse would be advocating for the adolescents by leveraging their professional networks in order to provide adolescents with alternative conceptualizations of beauty, success, social acceptance and desirability.
Another strategy that nurses can use to assist teenagers with eating disorders is to collaborate with other healthcare professionals- for instance dieticians and therapists. Dieticians would be useful insofar as generating an appropriate plan that is tailored to the specific goals of the adolescent, while maintaining nutritional balance that would reduce the possibility of developing eating disorders. Similarly, therapists would be helpful in providing counselling services that can assist the teenager to understand the roots of the body dysmorphia and eating disorder, which would then facilitate the development of a mitigation strategy. The nursing professionals can play an instrumental role in bringing together different healthcare professions to combat this issue, thereby highlighting the potential utility of nurses in assisting teenagers with body image dysmorphia.
In conclusion, the purpose of this analysis was to evaluate the extent to which the nursing profession can be actively engaged in combating eating disorders among adolescents. The first section of analysis demonstrated that social media use is often problematic, especially among teenage girls, as they tend to develop body dysmorphia because of the exposure to Western beauty ideals that revolve around the thin body type. It was also noted that most strategies on combating body dysmorphia and eating disorders focus on involving psychological healthcare practitioners- often at the expense of nurses. The paper argued that contrary to conventional wisdom, nurses can play an important role in mitigating against the development of eating disorders among teenagers. The necessary qualification that contextualizes the arguments herein is the active engagement of nurses in learning environments, as well as their prioritization as the first point of contact in primary healthcare facilities. The paper thus argued that nurses can adopt strategies that are consistent with best practices- for instance adopting a patient centric approach to care delivery, empowering the patients across all stages from diagnosis to treatment, and pioneering collaboration within the healthcare profession to assist teenagers with eating disorders. Moreover, it was argued that nurses can be useful in disseminating evidence-based and practical information; challenging the conventional Western beauty ideal of the thin body type; encouraging teenagers to actively think about the subliminal messages conveyed through social media platforms; and creating positive dietary and exercise regimes that are compatible with the needs, expectations or desires of teenagers experiencing body dysmorphia and subsequently developing eating disorders.
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