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Eating Disorders

Health Tracking Apps Provide a Worrying Pipeline to Eating Disorders. Better Tech Design Can Fix That.

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In an email to The Swaddle, Design Lab member Elizabeth Eikey discuss her research into the behaviors of women with eating disorders who also used weight loss apps.

“Users go through stages of use and report both positive and negative effects of the app at these various stages,” Eikey writes. “As users reflect back on their journey, they talk a great deal about the negative effects of the app during the early stages of use. However, when they first began using the app, they often did not realize their behaviors were indicative of an eating disorder and even found the app helpful.”

Even though Eikey’s research states that some users could self-motivate themselves to recover with the help of the app, the fact that the app pushed them towards or exacerbated an eating disorder is damning enough.

Eikey explains that disordered eating and unhealthy weight loss practices are common, and therefore cannot be ignored as a fringe problem that doesn’t affect the majority of an app’s user base. “Even if a person doesn’t meet the ‘threshold’ for a clinical eating disorder, that doesn’t mean that they never experience negative emotions related to their body and food. Everyone has mental health, and it fluctuates,” she says.
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Fraser received her PhD from UCSD in Computer Science this past spring, and is now working full-time as a Research Engineer at Adobe Research. During her PhD, she completed three internships with Adobe Research. During her first internship, she focused on the domain of photo editing in Photoshop and addressed the problems novices experience when they begin to use the application. Due to the plethora of features and tools offered by the service, it can often be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with Photoshop.
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