We all know that sitting in front of a computer screen isn’t exactly great for your health due to the fact it promotes inactivity. But, if you’re busy socialising on Facebook, it could be even worse for your waistline.
A new study has found that people who use Facebook are much more likely to snack on unhealthy food after spending time on the social networking site, particularly if they use it for talking to close friends.
Researchers from Columbia and Pittsburgh Universities put the findings down to the fact that interacting with friends online can raise your confidence but reduce powers of self-control.
The study used five different experiments to look at behaviour of people who use Facebook in a bid to find out how what they do online impacts on their behaviour once they log off.
Scientists found a link between social networking sites and having poor self-control over health, mental persistence and spending. The research, which is published in the Journal of Consumer Research, shows those who spent most time chatting with close friends had higher levels of self-esteem and were more likely to eat unhealthy snacks after signing out.
Those who spent more of their time chatting online to close friends also had a higher body mass index on average and more credit card debt.
But the same findings were not born out for people who were socialising with those they were less familiar with.
Writing in the journal, the scientists said: “Using online social networks can have a positive effect on self-esteem and well-being. However, these increased feelings of self-worth can have a detrimental effect on behaviour.
“Because consumers care about the image they present to close friends, social network use enhances self-esteem in users who are focused on close friends while browsing their social network. This momentary increase in self-esteem leads them to display less self-control.”
The scientists said their results were particularly “concerning” because people are spending an increasing amount of time on social networks, partly due to it becoming easier to access the likes of Facebook on smartphone devices.
“These results are concerning given the increased time people spend using social networks,” they said, “as well as the worldwide proliferation of access to social networks anywhere anytime via smartphones and other gadgets.
“Given that self-control is important for maintaining social order and personal well-being, this subtle effect could have widespread impact.”
With increasing levels of obesity among young people and one billion users on Facebook, they added: “This is particularly true for adolescents and young adults who are the heaviest users of social networks and have grown up using social networks as a normal part of their daily lives.”
The study found if users did come away with an increase sense of confidence, they might then reward themselves with “something hedonic and indulgent”.
Well, that might explain why we always fancy a bar of chocolate while sitting in front of our computer screen.