It’s easy to scroll down your Twitter or Instagram timeline and spot a meme, but some of those internet images could be increasing obesity rates, according to a new report.
British academics recently warned health care legislators that memes are normalizing “unhealthy lifestyles” in a letter titled “The Effects of Internet Memes.”
The researchers from Loughborough University in England listed the negative effects of social media, particularly for teenagers, citing bullying, apathy and body shaming.
In their notes, they explained how memes encourage unhealthy eating with photos, intended to be humorous. They pointed out images of obese children and pictures of pizza, hamburgers and sausages next to well-defined bodies.
“With the prevalence of social media as a source of health knowledge among young people, and indications that Internet memes may be playing a part in a general apathy towards behaviours that ridicule individuals and groups who display ‘non-normative’, ‘fat’, ‘unhealthy’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘at fault’ characteristics, the risks that this poses to future generations and our youth are noteworthy,” the authors wrote.
Furthermore, the researchers suggested teens may lack apathy because they simply enjoy the memes online rather than scrutinize them.
“It is worrying that Internet meme content... produces a predominate sense of happiness regardless of the underlying tone or image used,” they wrote. “If this is the broader case then we run the risk of normalising and accepting ridiculing and stereotyping of ‘non-normative’, ‘fat’, ‘unhealthy’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘at fault’ individuals because of cultural ignorance.”
The analysts also mentioned the financial burden unhealthy lifestyles, including smoking, physical inactivity and obesity, puts on health care officials, especially the country's National Health Service.