What’s the connection between Facebook and eating disorders? According to a new University of Haifa study, young women who frequently use the social networking site are more susceptible to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

In the study, Prof. Yael Letzer, Prof. Ruth Katz and Zohar Spivak of the Social Welfare and Health Sciences Faculty at the university, looked at two factors involved in eating disorders: exposure to the media and personal empowerment. The Haifa researchers polled 248 secular girls aged 12 to 18 on their media consumption, specifically their exposure to magazines, the Internet and TV.

The study showed that girls who spent the most time on Facebook were most likely to suffer from poor body image, anorexia and bulimia. Because Facebook puts the focus on an individual – on one’s looks, habits and behaviors – the authors suggested that this single-mindedness is what triggered appearance complexities.

“Facebook holds up a mirror – make that a magnifying glass – to society and adds visibility to things that already happen. So with respect to eating disorders, social media gives females more opportunity to compare themselves with their peer group and others,” wrote AllFacebook, the unofficial Facebook blog.

The researchers also found that exposure to fashion and music on the Internet led to eating disorders, but that connection was weaker than the link Facebook generated.

But cutting children off Facebook is not the answer. Rather, researchers showed that parents who interacted with their children about the content they consumed online were more likely to inspire empowerment and a better body image, and as such protected them from eating disorders. They concluded that with their involvement, caring and supervision, parents have the ability to influence their daughters’ sense of self and minimize their risk of eating disorders.