Pro-eating disorder (Pro-ED) web sites are designed to convey the idea that eating disorders are a 'lifestyle choice' rather than a mental-health problem. They contain pro-eating disorder statements, tips and tricks on unhealthy eating behaviours, nutritional (dis)information, pictures of unhealthily-thin women ('thinspiration') and interactive components. Although there have been studies on how these sites influence people's attitudes to food and body weight there has been no research into how they actually affect food consumption. Researchers from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania studied 90 college students who spent an hour-and-a-half looking at web sites. A third looked at a Pro-ED web site, a third looked at a healthy eating/exercise site while the rest looked at travel web sites. None of the women had eating disorders and they were all at a healthy weight. The women were asked to keep food diaries and the ones who had viewed the Pro-ED site consumed significantly less calories in the following week - an average of 9,697 compared to 12,167 for the rest of the women. They reported using techniques on the Pro-ED web site to help them eat less and had strong emotional reactions to the site. The changes caused by seeing the Pro-ED sites lasted for about three weeks after the end of the study.
Scarlett, Jett, LaPorte, David J. and Wanchisn, Jill - Impact of exposure to pro-eating disorder websites on eating behaviour in college women European Eating Disorders Review, September-October 2010, 18(5), 410-416