It's Digital Health Week! In the spirit of celebrating advancement in digital health, we want to focus on the ever-growing category of digital nutrition information. Keep reading for 3 tips on sorting through nutrition information on all your platforms.
Social media usage is deeply ingrained in our everyday life. On average, people spend 145 minutes on social media per day (1). Having the internet in our palm allows us to easily access information. However, this has led to a flood of food and nutrition information from some less than reputable sources. From YouTube creators' "What I Eat in a Day" vlog-style content to TikTok's obsession with chlorophyll water, it can feel daunting to separate the good from the not-so-good nutrition information. In this blog post, we will highlight ways you can avoid nutrition misinformation in the future.
1. Be Aware of Influencer Marketing Strategies: Who is Making Money from this Content?
We're sure everyone is familiar with the Instagram influencer. They always look flawless and are somehow always on vacation somewhere tropical. Issues arise when they attempt to sell you "tummy teas" or other health gimmicks, all with the promise that you'll look like them in no time when you buy that product. The influencer makes money by associating the aspirational qualities of their lifestyle to the brand they're promoting. A lot of times, an influencer will accept these brand deals without doing enough (or any) research. Their audience is vulnerable to this sales technique because they've come to trust this influencer over time and perhaps aspire to be like them. This will ultimately lead to consumers buying products that fail to deliver on their promises. Not to mention, these products are often not approved by governing bodies, which raises questions about their safety (2). It's best to be aware of these strategies when deciding if nutrition information on social media is legitimate.
2. Are They Credible Sources/Do They Provide Credible Sources?
Another great way to distinguish legitimate information from non-legitimate information is to consider the source (3). Is this person a health professional? If not, are they at least citing information from reputable sources? Nutrition facts presented without one of these two factors should be taken with a grain of salt. Further, an effort should be made to consult secondary, more reputable sources before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
3. Lastly, be Mindful of Other Key Characteristics of Nutrition Misinformation.
Does the product or regimen offer a "quick fix"? Does it rely heavily on testimonials? Could you find yourself saying it seems "too good to be true"(3)? These are great ways to determine the validity of nutrition claims on the internet.
We hope that this has provided some insight on navigating the muddy waters of nutrition claims on social media. The next time you see a product with health claims being marketed towards you, ask yourself: who is making money from promoting this content? Are the sources for this information clearly cited? Does this content fall into any of the other standard misinformation traps? Lastly, when in doubt, consult secondary reliable sources before making any lifestyle changes.
1. Daily social media usage worldwide [Internet]. Statista. 2021 [cited 2021 Nov 28]. Available from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/
2. Rijo VG. Sipping the (Detox) Tea: The Rise in Advertisements for Non-FDA Approved Supplements on Social Media & Regulations (or Lack Thereof) That Govern. Adm Law Rev Accord [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2021 Nov 29];5. Available from: https://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/alrcod5&id=178&div=&collection=
3. Bellows L, Moore R. Nutrition Misinformation: How to Identify Fraud and Misleading Claims - 9.350 - Extension [Internet]. Colorado State University. [cited 2021 Nov 29]. Available from: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/nutrition-misinformation-how-to-identify-fraud-and-misleading-claims-9-350/