Objective: To determine health-related effects of viewing pro-eating disorder (Pro-ED) websites.
Methods: A systematic review was carried out addressing: 1. The effect of viewing pro-ED websites on ‘eating disorder behaviour’, 2. The effect of viewing pro-ED websites on viewers’ negative and positive affect.
Results: Seven studies were included. Pro-ED viewers compared with controls showed higher levels of dieting and exercise (3 studies, 2 suggesting causation); higher levels of drive for thinness, body dissatisfaction and perfectionism (2 studies, both associative); a reduced likelihood of binging/purging (one study); increased negative affect (two studies); and a positive correlation between viewing pro-ED websites, disease duration and hospitalisations (one study).
Conclusion: Viewing pro-ED websites may increase eating disorder behaviour but might not cause it. It may cause increased negative affect after a single short website exposure. For those with eating disorders, viewing is positively correlated with disease duration and hospitalisations. Professionals should be aware of these sites and their potential damage for health.