Encouraging DIY health exams via social media has been the all the rage lately, but these trending challenges could be dishing out some faulty advice

By Kaitlin Menza
June 17, 2015
Trinhger's Instagram

Social media has spawned a number of bizarre-and often unhealthy-body trends (thigh gaps, bikini bridges, and thinspo anyone?). And the latest was brought to us this past weekend: the #BellyButtonChallenge, which began on the Chinese version of Twitter, but has now been accepted by 130 million people worldwide.

The challenge is pretty simple: Participants wrap an arm behind their lower back and try to touch their belly button. How close you can get to your navel is supposedly a sign of your health (read: skinniness), a weird test based on a U.S. study that no one ever actually cited because it doesn't really exist. You might be tempted to try this yourself, right now, if you haven't already. It's so easy! (And an easy way to feel bad about yourself.)

Of course, there is some connection between your stomach size and your overall health. "We know increased waist circumference is associated with an increased risk of heart disease," says Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., a cardiologist and director of Women's Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "But this association is a hip-to-waist ratio greater than 0.8 in women." In other words, if your hips measure, say, 36 inches, your waist would have to be 30 inches or more for you to be considered at risk.

A larger waist may suggest you weigh more, and if you weigh more you could have more health problems-but you didn't need a belly button challenge to tell you that. "This is yet another trend promoting an unhealthy perception of exactly what health and beauty should look like," she says. "Images of beauty should reflect inner health and vitality." (Read The Right (and Wrong) Ways to Use Social Media for Weight Loss.)

To that end, British lingerie label Curvy Kate is encouraging its customers to do a health check on a different body part. Their #BoobsOverBellyButtons Instagram campaign encourages women to feel their chests instead of their stomachs-in other words, conduct a breast exam. That way, they can get to know what their own healthy breast tissue feels like (and better, spot a potentially cancerous lump should one emerge). "We think it is a far more sensible and useful way to spend your time!" reads the line's blog. "Taking just two minutes to check your boobs and get to know them could potentially be a lifesaving exercise."

It's a lovely, more body positive campaign than the #BellyButtonChallenge, though several organizations and experts (including the World Health Organization and the Susan G. Komen foundation) have now landed on the side of not recommending self-checks as a preventative measure against breast cancer, since they have a negligible success rate. (Surprised? Find out more in Breast Self-Exam Debate Finally Settled.) While both the Belly Button Challenge and #BoobsOverBellyButton may not rely on the most sound medical advice, we love any campaign that grabs women's attention and encourages them to think about their health, and take action to maintain it. A smarter recommendation, though, is to keep an eye on your own body and its typical appearance, and then discuss any changes with your doctors. They went to med school for a reason, right?


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