New study: Advantages and disadvantages of internet use according to women with eating disorders

19 Jan 2021

IRTIS members Hana Drtilová, David Šmahel and Martina Šmahelová published a new qualitative study detailing the advantages and disagvantages of internet use from the perspective of women with eating disorder experience. The study was published in the prestegious journal Health Communication.


Even though the internet is a common source of information and treatment for people with eating disorder (ED) experience, the motives for illness-related searches have rarely been investigated beyond the perceived negatives. This study explores how women with ED experience reflect upon the advantages and disadvantages of their ED-related internet use. We expand the framework of the Uses and Gratifications Theory (U&G) into the context of users with ED experience through 30 semi-structured interviews with women with ED experience, aged 16 to 28, who live in the Czech Republic.

Thematic analysis revealed four themes related to the pros and cons of their internet usage:

  • ED-related Information Content
  • Internet Features Important to Users
  • Body Image
  • Social Interaction

The results challenge the binary view of ED-related internet use and question some presumptions of U&G Theory within the specific context of users with ED experience.


Please cite the study as:
Drtilova, H., Smahel, D. & Smahelova, M. (2021). Advantages and Disadvantages of Internet Use: The Perspective of Women with Eating Disorders Experience, Health Communication. Advanced online. DOI: 10.1080/10410236.2020.1868076

Image credit: Designed by pereslavtseva, Vectorium / Freepik

Full study here

Main findings

Women with eating disorder (ED) experience do not see internet use as only positive or negative - their views are often mixed and contradictory. Internet use is dynamic, depending on the current phase of the illness and related needs.

Internet is appealing because it can fulfill need for ED-related information and body image needs. It also provides possibilities for social connections, support, comparison, and feedback.

Online environment provides means for sharing content for self-actualization and disclosure needs.

Women with ED experience are not always active in selecting online content. On contrary, they face unwanted information and information overload.

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