Ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the German Ethics Council has found itself in the limelight of society. The council is far from only addressing issues surrounding coronavirus measures and the vaccination programme. On the contrary, it has the task of discussing ethical, social, scientific, medical and legal issues in general – also with regard to nutritional responsibility, for example. The dimensions of this topic were the subject of the recent online annual meeting of the Ethics Council on 23 June. The annual meeting was live-streamed, and drew in more than 1,000 viewers. An expert on eating disorders from Landshut University of Applied Sciences also attended as a guest speaker.
With her colleagues Sabine Bohnet-Joschko (Witten/Herdecke University) and Eva-Maria Endres (doctoral study course on “Ethics, Culture and Education for the 21st Century” of the Catholic Universities in Bavaria) Prof. Dr. Eva Wunderer from the Faculty of Social Work discussed the influence of media and the internet on nutritional behaviour, body images and eating. Prof. Wunderer has been closely familiar with this issue for several months. On the basis of a recent study she wants to find out how social media use is linked to eating disorders in young people.
Bringing internet based body ideals into question
“The German Ethics Council approached me following the study on social media and eating disorders that I completed together with Dr. Maya Götz from the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television IZI,” explains Prof. Wunderer. For Prof. Wunderer, it was a great honour to be able to give a keynote speech on this topic at the annual conference. “With my lecture, I hope to have made a contribution to questioning the portrayal of the body and nutrition in social media and the importance of the body as a defining feature in general,” explained the Landshut professor. “We need diversity when it comes to physical shape, and the stigma based on body shape has to stop.” According to Prof. Wunderer, every individual should ask themselves the following questions: how do I talk about nutrition, physical appearance and weight? To what extend to I make derogatory remarks or jokes? Whom do I follow in social media, which pictures and influencers do I like?
The conference focused on excess weight and obesity and its consequences. On the one hand, this is a topic in which there is a risk of an individualisation of responsibility: if you are overweight, it’s your own fault and you should change. The experts at the conference explicitly contradicted this by making reference to structural and societal influences. The second risk, according to Prof. Wunderer, is the stigmatisation and discrimination regarding certain body shapes. A sustainable, balanced form of nutrition should not go hand in hand with a focus on body mass index and body weight, and classify children as “healthy” and “unhealthy” or even “right” and “wrong” according to their body shape. Otherwise, there is a risk of perpetuating the idealisation of a slim, muscular and fit body, which is also linked to eating disorders.
“The discussion at the conference hasn't just provided me with impulses for research but also with suggestions for teaching,” Prof. Wunderer concludes. “I’m pleased that several students are also helping to shape the research, especially in the context of their bachelor's and master's theses.”
Screenshot 1: Graphic Recording/gabriele-heinzel.com
Screenshot 2 and 3: Landshut University of Applied Sciences/Thomas Kolbinger
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