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Does Facebook make you eat and spend more?

Research suggests that heavy Facebook use can lead to a lack of self-control. (Thinkstock)Is Facebook making you lose your self-control?

Researchers from Columbia University and the University of Pittsburg have found that for certain users, Facebook use is associated with negative impulsive behaviours that may lead to weight gain and debt.

“Using online social networks can have a positive effect on self-esteem and wellbeing,” explain authors Keith Wilcox and Andrew T. Stephen. “However, these increased feelings of self-worth can have a detrimental effect on behavior. Because consumers care about the image they present to close friends, social network use enhances self-esteem in users who are focused on close friends while browsing their social network. This momentary increase in self-esteem leads them to display less self-control after browsing a social network.”

Also see: Can antioxidant-rich superfoods actually make cancer worse?

So what are the specific consequences of not having enough self-control while on Facebook? The researchers suggest people who use Facebook a lot are more likely to choose an unhealthy snack after using the site.

The study, to be published in the June issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, also found that greater Facebook use was associated with increased binge eating, a lower credit score, and higher levels of credit card debt.

Wilcox and Stephen say that given the proliferation of the website, this “subtle effect” could have a widespread impact.

Also see: Fructose may spur overeating, claims study

Before you disable your account for fear of imminent weight gain, it should be noted that this conclusion is built around the somewhat dubious idea that self-confidence leads to a lack of self-control, which in turn makes you want to binge eat on an unhealthy snack. But other research — and perhaps common sense — finds that impulsive acts are more likely to be prompted by low — not high — self esteem. We overeat when we’re feeling depressed or down on ourselves, not when we’re feeling super fantastic about who we are.

Perhaps the correlation between heavy Facebook use and overeating can be attributed to the narcissism of these users, a trait consistently linked with impulsivity.

Whatever the reason, Wilson and Stephens’ data does show that heavy Facebook users are more likely to be overweight and poor. Whether that correlation means that one causes the other is open to debate, and until that debate is settled, feel free to check your newsfeed as many times a day as you like without fear of packing on the pounds.  

Watch the video below about a model who dealt with Facebook stalking earlier this year. 

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