By Zoe Bradbury
Health, fitness and weight loss discussions on social media can often help people reach the next step in their journey, inspire them to try something new, or give them the motivation to succeed.
But a new study conducted by the University of Glasgow has revealed that, shockingly, only 1 in 9 health influencers are posting information that can be backed by science.
It’s a worrying statistic, considering that many turn to their phones for the advice and guidance from people who has amassed large amounts of followers and who seem to preach a healthy lifestyle. But follower count doesn’t equate to scientific knowledge or education.
The study analysed UK influencers whose main focus was weight loss and healthy lifestyles, had more than 80,000 followers, had a blue-tick verification (meaning Instagram had deemed them influential in their field) and were active on at least two social media sites.
Researchers found that only 1 in 10 of the influencers analysed were providing correct, scientific information in regard to the nutrition of recipes and food groups.
Some presented their opinions as facts, while others provided information that was misleading or lacked a disclaimer. Further, information was provided from influencers who actually had no formal nutritional qualifications.
Their findings were enough for the study’s author, Christina Sabbagh from the University of Glasgow to claim that “we found that the majority of the blogs could not be considered credible sources of weight management information, as they often presented opinion as fact and failed to meet UK nutritional criteria”
“”This is potentially harmful, as these blogs reach such a wide audience,” she said.
If one is shocked by the results, it’s not hard to find high profile cases of influencers leading people astray in the past.
Think back to Belle Gibson, who in 2015 claimed that a wholefoods diet, natural remedies and alternative therapies helped cure her terminal brain cancer.
Her 200,000+ followers believed her, and within the first month of her The Whole Pantry smartphone application launching, it had been downloaded over 200,000 times.
Yet it was later revealed that the blogger never even suffered from cancer, and the large proportion of funds she had promised to cancer charities had never been seen.
Celebrity chef Pete Evans has also faced backlash in the past for his controversial claims. In 2015 he claimed that bone broth could be used as a replacement baby formula, when in fact the Public Health Association of Australia found that bone broth contains more than ten times the safe amount of maximum daily intake of Vitamin A for babies.
He also stated that a paleo diet can cure autism, and that sunscreen is toxic, among other claims.
While Instagram can be a great tool for health inspiration and ideas, the study is a timely reminder that not everything one reads online is true, fact-checked or backed by medical and scientific information.
If you have health concerns, put down the phone and head to your GP instead.
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