You see memes everywhere on social media. Many of them are hilarious, others share heartfelt sentiments, and others can be deemed downright offensive. However, memes that normalize bad eating habits and behaviors have been openly criticized by academics after a letter was sent to a British parliamentary committee recently.
According to CNN, researchers from Loughborough University wrote in a letter in which they outlined how some memes might actually be encouraging teenage obesity. The letter was submitted by Dr. Ash Casey, Dr. Martin Sykora, Dr. Suzanne Elayan, Professor Tom Jackson, and Professor Lorraine Cale.
This letter was sent to a committee “analyzing the effects of social media use on young people’s health.” In the letter they suggested that such memes could “have the potential to normalize undesirable behaviors” and this is why they were speaking out on the matter. There was also the concern that these sorts of memes were making light of serious health issues.
In the letter, the researchers pointed out that some memes that are popular can encourage bad eating habits by normalizing obesity or other food-related issues. They used an example of the obese child image with the caption, “Free food? Count me in!”
“A substantial number of individuals on Twitter share health-related Internet memes, with both positive and negative messages,” they wrote in the letter.
They also suggest that by normalizing such issues, teenagers could become apathetic to potential health issues that can arise from long-term obesity.
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Some other memes that the researchers suggest could lead to teen obesity issues included a meme of a body made up of junk food standing next to images of standard bodies. This meme included the caption “Me” over the image of the person made from junk food.
“Just washed this chocolate bar with soap” was another meme also cited. This one included the hashtag #cleaneating.
“Internet memes are generally viewed as entertaining but they also represent a body of cultural practice that does not account for the specific needs and rights of teenagers,” the letter stated.
The researchers also suggest that the ill effects of such memes could eventually add further strain to the NHS bill every year.
As The Hill points out, the group of researchers is “calling for more investigation into the impact of memes and their impact on social policy initiatives.” At this point in time, parliament has not publicly responded to their letter and it is unclear what form of action they will decide to take in the matter.