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Revista Española de Nutrición Humana y Dietética

versión On-line ISSN 2174-5145versión impresa ISSN 2173-1292

Rev Esp Nutr Hum Diet vol.25 no.1 Pamplona ene./mar. 2021  Epub 08-Nov-2021 


The relationship between social media use, eating attitude and body mass index among nutrition and dietetic female students: a cross-sectional study

Relación entre el uso de las redes sociales, la actitud alimentaria y el índice de masa corporal entre estudiantes mujeres de nutrición y dietética: un estudio transversal

Şule Aktaça  *  , Dicle Kargina  , Fatma Esra Güneşa 

a Beslenme ve Diyetetik Bölümü, Sağlık Bilimleri Fakültesi, Marmara Üniversitesi, Istanbul, Turkey.



This study aimed to investigate the relationship between media using habits, frequency and duration, and body mass index on eating attitudes.

Material and Methods:

The cross-sectional study was conducted with female students who received nutrition and dietetics education in Istanbul. A questionnaire consisting of a socio-demographic questionnaire, Eating Attitude Test (EAT-40), and Social Media Attitude Scale was applied to 1248 female volunteers by the face-to-face interview method.


It was found that 35.7% of the participants had abnormal eating attitudes and 89.6% showed a positive attitude towards social media. 93.7% of the group with abnormal eating attitudes indicated a positive attitude towards social media, 0.4% had a negative attitude and the difference was statistically significant (p=0.001). It was observed that a significant difference between EAT-40 and thought of an eating problem, having a social media membership, and spending time on social media (p<0.05).

Keywords: Body Mass Index; Feeding Behavior; Social Media; Female; tudents



Este estudio tuvo como objetivo investigar la relación entre los hábitos de uso de los medios, la frecuencia y duración, y el índice de masa corporal sobre las actitudes alimentarias.

Material y Métodos:

El estudio transversal se realizó con alumnas que recibieron educación en nutrición y dietética en Estambul. Se aplicó un cuestionario que constaba de un cuestionario sociodemográfico, una Prueba de Actitud Alimentaria (EAT-40) y una Escala de Actitud en las Redes Sociales a 1248 voluntarias mediante el método de entrevista cara a cara.


Se encontró que el 35,7% de los participantes presentaba actitudes alimentarias anormales y el 89,6% mostró una actitud positiva hacia las redes sociales. El 93,7% del grupo con actitudes alimentarias anormales indicó una actitud positiva hacia las redes sociales, el 0,4% tuvo una actitud negativa y la diferencia fue estadísticamente significativa (p=0,001). Se observó una diferencia significativa entre EAT-40 y pensar en un problema de alimentación, tener una membresía en las redes sociales y pasar tiempo en las redes sociales (p<0,05).


Las redes sociales tienen un efecto en los estudiantes de dietética nutricional sobre la actitud alimentaria anormal; no mostró un efecto significativo sobre el IMC.

Palabras clave: Índice de Masa Corporal; Conducta Alimentaria; Medios de Comunicación Sociales; Femenino; Estudiantes; Universidades


Increased rapid developments in technology and communication in the 21st century, the need to access information and use it effectively has become an integral part of daily life1,2. Media, the name was given to all of the major communication and broadcasting tools while defining “whole communication environment”3; social media, on the other hand, can be defined as a user-based form of electronic communication such as websites for social networking where users build online communities to share information; to express their thoughts and personal messages; to discuss ideas and other content4,5. Social media is at the same time an electronic form of communication that enables users to produce and use content, providing social interaction, and appointment6. Communication of individuals born in the digital world (ages 15-24) takes place on social media or social networks7. It was found that 13% of young people in Turkey spent more than six hours on social media, 86% of them connect to social media at least once a day8.

Whereas eating disorder studies conducted to date were examined, although they did not show a clear consistency, nutrition and dietetics students were more risk-prone than others9-13. The knowledge of nutrients, weight gain and body compositions, and/or thought of appearance effect on their future careers are identified as factors that increase the risk14,15. Given the high popularity of social media among young adults who spends much time on these platforms, nutrition and dietetic students attract attention by sharing health-related nutrition information, food preparation, recipe collection, or recipe preparation for others. Social media, on the other hand, is a platform where these posts are made the most and its usage is becoming widespread day by day. Besides nutrition and dietetics students are a more remarkable group in terms of nutritional behaviors due to the education they receive, younger female adults are more susceptible to eating disorders. A review16 aimed to find epidemiology of eating disorders in Europe found that 2.0-3.0% of women reported eating disorders while men reported 0.3-0.7%. Therefore, in most of the nutrition studies, young women are selected as target groups and examined in terms of nutritional properties.

The aim of the present research is to determine the tendency, frequency, and duration of social media membership in the daily lives of female students in the Nutrition and Dietetics Department and to examine the effects of media on BMI and eating disorder.

Material and methods

This cross-sectional study was carried out with the students of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, who studied at universities in Istanbul between November 2017 and May 2018. 1280 participants who accepted to participate voluntarily from 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade female students were included in the study. Exclusion criteria were: being 1st grade students due to a lack of professional knowledge. Participants, who did not have a social media account (n=23) and who did not complete the questionnaire form (n=9) were excluded, and the final number of participants was 1248. Ethical approval was taken from Bilgi University Ethical Committee (2017-50016-26).

A face-to-face questionnaire form consisting of three parts was applied to participants. The first part is socio-demographic characteristics that include information about height and weight, diet and physical activity status, social media use based on their statements; the second part is the Social Media Attitude Scale (SMA) for determining a person's social media attitude; the third part was the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-40) scale was used to determine eating disorders.

The SMA was developed by Argın and Otrar (2015), aimed to measure individuals' attitudes towards social media17. It is a 5-point Likert-type with 23 items. Items 3, 7, 11, 14, 22, and 23 are reverse coded because they are negative. The minimum score is 23, and the maximum score is 11517. Finally, the average scores of the data between 1.0-2.33 were evaluated as “negative attitude”, those between 2.34 and 3.66 are considered as “partially positive attitude” and those between 3.67 and 5 is “positive attitude”18.

Eating attitude is a self-report scale EAT-40 was developed by Garner and Garfinkel in 1979 and it is a general screening measure for abnormal eating attitudes19. EAT-40 test is a 6-point Likert type scale consisting of 40 items and the cut-off score was determined to be 3019. The scale's validity and reliability to Turkish were made by Savaşır and Erol20. Those who obtain 30 or more scores at risk of eating disorders, but the test results are not sufficient for a definitive diagnosis.

Windows SPSS 21.0 Statistical Software was used for the statistical evaluation of the data. Mean, standard deviation (SD), minimum, and maximum values were determined to evaluate the data to be obtained as a result of the sociodemographic questionnaire. Categorical data in the questionnaire were evaluated as number (n) and percentage (%). The significance of the difference between the averages of the data that showed normal distribution was examined in two independent groups with the t-test. For more than two groups, it was analyzed by a one-way analysis of variance. For non-normally distributed data, Chi-square and Kruskal-Wallis as nonparametric tests were applied. The margin of error is p=0.05 and it has been worked with 95% confidence.


The mean age of the participants was 20.7±2.2 years. The average body weight was 56.9±8.2 kg, the average height was 165.0±5.9 cm, and the average BMI was 20.9±2.7 kg/m2. According to BMI classification, most (69.2%) of the participants were normal, 20% were overweight, 9.7% underweight, and 1.1% were obese. 42.6% of the participants have never been on a diet. At the same time, 58.3% of the participants think that they have a moderate problem with eating. Based on self-reported physical activity status most of (66.2%) the participants were active several times in a month. When the EAT-40 scores of the participants are analyzed, it has been found that 64.3% of them had a normal eating attitude. According to the SMA scale, 89.6% were found to be partial positive attitudes (Table 1).

Table 1.  General characteristics 

X-±SD minimum maximun
Anthropometric measurements Weight (kg) 56.9 ± 8.2 38 115
Height (cm) 165.0 ± 5.9 135 195
BMI (kg/m2) 20.9 ± 2.7 12.9 35.9
Scales EAT-40 20.8 ± 14.3 0 90
SMA 74.1 ± 8.5 40 101
n %
Classification of BMI Underweight 121 9.7
Normal weight 864 69.2
Overweight 250 20.0
Obese 13 1.1
Dieting status Often 224 18.0
Rarerly 492 39.4
Never 532 42.6
Thought of an eating problem Not 414 33.2
Moderate 728 58.3
Overmuch 106 8.5
Physical activity Every day 55 4.5
Several times a week 333 26.7
Several times a month 827 66.2
Never 33 2.6
EAT-40 Normal eating attitude 802 64.3
Abnormal eating attitude 446 35.7
SMA Negative attitude 19 1.5
Partial positive attitude 1118 89.6
Positive attitude 111 8.9

EAT-40: Eating Attitudes Test-40; SMA: Social Media Attitude Scale.

Information about the social media usage of the participants was given in Table 2. According to this information, 77.8% of the participants reported that they have been using social media for 4 years and more, 65.1% have used social media many times, and 42.5% spent 11-30 minutes on social media in a day.

Table 2.  Information about social media use. 

Social media use n %
Duration of use
< 1 year 43 3.4
1-2 years 69 5.5
2-3 years 165 13.2
≥ 4 years 971 77.8
Frequency of use social media
≤ 1 a week 32 2.6
2-3 times a week 30 2.4
1-2 times a day 186 14.9
Many times in a day 812 65.1
Always online 188 15.1
Time spent on social media
5-10 minutes 323 25.9
11-30 minutes 531 42.5
31-60 minutes 262 6.4
61-120 minutes 80 6.4
≥ 121 minutes 52 4.2

93.7% of the abnormal eating attitude group showed partial positive attitude towards social media, 0.4% showed negative attitudes; while 87.3% of the group normal eating attitude showed partial positive attitudes, 2.1% showed negative attitudes (p=0.001) (Table 3).

Table 3.  The relationship between EAT-40 and SMA. 

SMA EAT-40 p
Normal eating attitude Abnormal eating attitude
n % n %
Negative attitude 17 2.1 2 0.4 0.001*
Partial positive attitude 700 87.3 418 93.7
Positive attitude 85 10.6 26 5.9
Total 802 100.0 446 100.0

Chi-square test, *p<0.01; EAT-40: Eating Attitudes Test-40; SMA: Social Media Attitude Scale.

When the eating attitude test scores and the frequency of social media usage of the participants were evaluated, there was a significant difference between the groups (p=0.002). It was observed that the differences were significant between the always online group with the groups using social media 2 or 3 times a week (p=0.019), 1 or 2 times a day (p=0.007), and multiple times a day (p<0.001), respectively (Table 4).

Table 4.  The relationship between the frequency of social media use and the EAT-40. 

Frequency of use social media EAT-40 p
n median minimum maximum
≤ 1 a week 32 15.0 3.0 49.0 0.002*
2-3 times a week 30 10.0 4.0 39.0
1-2 times a day 186 15.0 2.0 64.0
Many times in a day 812 15.5 0.0 67.0
Always online 188 27.0 0.0 90.0

Kruskal-Wallis test, *p<0.01; EAT-40: Eating Attitudes Test-40; SMA: Social Media Attitude Scale.

Information on the comparison of the participatory characteristics of the participants and EAT-40 and SMA scores are given in Table 5. The entire group with the abnormal eating attitude has social media membership, 39.5% of them spend 11-30 minutes on social media during the day (p<0.05). There was no statistically significant difference between the social media attitude of the participants and their BMI, diet, and thought of an eating problem (p>0.05).

Table 5.  Comparison of the participants' characteristics with EAT-40 and SMA. 

Participants' characteristics EAT-40 SMA
Normal eating attitude Abnormal eating attitude p Negative attitute Partial positive attitute Positive attitute p
n % n % n % n % n %
Classification of BMI (kg/m2)
Underweight 139 17.3 76 17.0 0.9 3 15.8 193 17.3 19 17.1 0.9
Normal weight 607 75.7 339 76.0 14 73.7 846 75.7 86 77.5
Overweight 48 6.0 27 6.1 2 0 10.5 67 6.0 6 0 5.4
Obese 8 1.0 4 0.9 0 0 12 1.1 0 0
Dieting status
Often 137 17.0 87 19.5 0.4 5 26.3 194 17.4 25 22.5 0.08
Rarerly 314 39.2 178 39.9 4 21.1 438 39.1 50 45.1
Never 351 43.8 181 40.6 10 52.6 486 43.5 36 32.4
Obese 7 0.9 6 1.3 0 0 13 1.2 0 0
Thought of an eating problem
No 268 33.4 146 32.7 0.001** 7 36.8 372 33.3 35 31.5 0.9
Moderate 484 60.4 244 54.7 11 57.9 650 58.1 67 60.4
Overmuch 50 6.2 56 12.6 1 5.3 96 8.6 9 8.1
Social media membership
Yes 788 98.3 446 100.0 0.002** 16 84.2 1107 99.0 111 100 <0.001***
No 14 1.7 0 0 3 15.8 11 1.0 0 0
Duration of social media membership
< 1 year 27 3.4 337 75.6 0.50 3 15.8 39 3.5 1 0.9 <0.001***
1-2 years 40 5.0 29 6.5 4 21.1 64 5.7 1 0.9
2-3 years 101 12.5 64 14.3 2 10.5 146 13.1 17 15.3
≥ 4 years 634 79.1 337 75.5 10 52.6 869 77.7 92 82.9
Frequency of use social media
≤ 1 a week 21 2.6 11 2.5 0.25 2 10.5 29 2.6 1 0.9 <0.001***
2-3 times a week 21 2.6 9 2.0 3 15.8 27 2.4 0 0
1-2 times a day 120 15.0 66 14.8 7 36.8 165 14.8 14 12.6
Many times in 1 day 539 67.2 273 61.2 7 36.8 165 14.8 14 12.6
Always online 101 12.6 87 19.5 1 5.3 157 14.0 30 27.0
Spending time on social media
5-10 minutes 221 27.6 102 22.9 0.01* 5 26.3 289 25.8 29 26.1 0.7
11-30 minutes 355 44.3 176 39.5 6 31.6 90.6 43.0 44 39.6
31-60 minutes 150 18.7 112 25.1 7 36.8 232 20.8 23 20.7
61-120 minutes 46 5.7 34 7.6 1 5.3 69 6.2 10 9.0
≥ 121 minutes 30 3.7 22 4.9 0 0 47 4.2 5 4.5

Chi-square test, between EAT-40 with variables in the column and between SMA with variables in the column. *p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001; EAT-40: Eating Attitudes Test-40; SMA: Social Media Attitude Scale.


In this study, it was aimed to investigate the relationship between the media usage habits of female students of nutrition and dietetics in Istanbul and the risk of eating attitude and behavior. A study was conducted by Kim (2015) to evaluate eating attitudes of female university students, the mean age and BMI of the participants were found as 20.0±1.8 years, 20.1±2.2 kg/m2, respectively21. According to the findings obtained from this study, the mean of age (20.7±2.2 years) and mean of BMI (20.9±2.7 kg/m2) were the same as the previous study. Percentages of individuals who were normal according to BMI classification were found to be similar to the results of Woo et al. (2014)22. According to the 2018 Turkey Demographic and Health Survey report, women in the 20-29 age range in Turkey were found a mean BMI of 25.1, and 50.7% of them have normal BMI23. Similar to our study, in another study conducted with female students on nutrition and dietetics 77.2% of them were found to be normal BMI24. In our current study, it is thought that the reason for the lower mean of BMI is due to the university population of the younger age group.

In 2018, the number of Internet users worldwide was 4.021 billion with an annual increase of 7%, the number of social media users was 3,196 billion, with an annual increase of 13%25. According to TurkStat data; Computer and Internet using rates in Turkey were 50.6% and 65.5% respectively in female individuals in the 16-74 age group in 201826. When the frequency of social media use was examined in our study, it was seen that 65.1% of the participants used social media.

In studies conducted to measure the eating attitudes and behaviors of Turkish university students, it was observed that the rate of eating behavior disorder of female individuals ranged from 6.6% to 13.4%27,28. In another study conducted in the following years with the participation of 314 female university students, the average of EAT-40 test score was found 14.38 and the rate of eating disorders by 8%29. In the current study, the risk of eating disorders was observed in 35.7% of the participants, and the mean of the EAT-40 score was found at 20.8 ± 14.3. In light of these data, we observe that the risk of eating attitudes increases with female university students in our country over time.

In a study examining the eating attitude components of university students, the participants reported that they were influenced by the media30. General Problematic Internet Usage Scale (GPIUS) was applied to 383 university students (70.2% women) with an average age of 23.8, and it was found that body esteem indicators mediate the relationship between the use of social networking sites and eating disorders. After more use of social media sites, it causes serious weight and appearance dissatisfaction associated with eating disorder31. In our study, when the participants' EAT-40 scores and the frequency of social media usage were evaluated, a difference was found between the group that is always online and the groups that use social media 1-2 times or 1-3 times a week. It can be said that the risk of eating disorders increases in proportion to the time spent on social media.

Studies examining the relationship between BMI and social media use are limited. While some of these studies had an effect of social media on BMI32-34, others indicated no significant associations. In line with studies that did not find a relationship35,36, no significant relationship was found between the social media attitudes of the participants and their BMI in the present study. It is predicted that several reasons may have been effective in this regard. One of these reasons is that nutrition and dietetics students may be using social media for personal or educational reasons37. Sampasa-Kanyinga et al. found a relationship between social media and body mass index in a study conducted on male adolescents35. Another reason is that our group in the current study consists only of the female population.

The use of only women is a strong aspect, as dietetics professionals and students are consisting mostly of women, thereby they represent the vast majority of the group. EAT-40 and anthropometric measurements are based on their statements, and high nutritional training may cause biased responses. Despite its limitations, this study has quite a large sample size, validated, and reliable measurement items. The present study was conducted in Istanbul which is represented a small sample of Turkey (18.7% of the whole population).

Given the rapid rise in social media use on gender can be improved by adding male participants to the study. Concurrently, comparing the nutrition and dietetics departments with others will enable a better understanding of the effects of social media on nutrition and dietetics students.


Due to its increasingly widespread use and the relation between health, social media usage deserves further relevance in the field of nutrition dietetics. The current study, the effect of social media, in the formation of eating disorders, was emphasized. Findings suggest that while there was a significant relationship between the effects of media use on eating disorders and there was no significant effect on BMI. In addition to conducting advanced research to better understand the role of social media among nutrition dietetics students, as a consequence that from student to professional education of nutrition and dietetics social media appears crucial, it may be a useful approach to design and present a curriculum for instructors on the nutritional attitudes, nutritional status and professional practices of social media with an evidence-based approach in trainings.

Key Messages

  • 1. We evaluated eating behaviour and social media relationship in female nutrition and dietetic students..

  • 2. Students with abnormal eating attitude showed positive attitude towards to social media.

  • 3. Having a social media membership and spending time on social media had effect on eating attitude.


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Funding Authors state that there has been no funding to carry out this study.

Received: June 30, 2020; Accepted: October 17, 2020; pub: October 19, 2020


Assigned Editor

Macarena Lozano Lorca. Universidad de Granada. Granada, España.

Authors' contributions

Şule Aktaç conceived the original idea for the research. Şule Aktaç and Dicle Kargin designed the aim of the work and the analytical plan. Dicle Kargin organized and conducted the research and the analysis of datas, preparing the first draft of the manuscript. Şule Aktaç and Fatma Esra Güneş revised the whole manuscript. All authors contributed to the critical appraisal of the manuscript and approved the final version.

Competing interests

Authors state that there are no conflicts of interest in preparing the manuscript.

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