Social media can be a wonderful thing, when it comes to connecting with others, feeling a sense of belonging and providing opportunities for social support, however, there can be some drawbacks too, when it comes to nutrition related content and health.
With anyone being able to publish anything online, it creates a lot of opportunity for a lot of confusion to ensue.
Misinformation, malinformation or disinformation may be spread.
Misinformation: is information that is false, but not created or shared with the intent to harm.
Malinformation: is based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm or manipulate.
Disinformation: is content that is deliberately created to mislead, harm, or manipulate a person, social group, organization, or country.
Material shared may be staged/photoshopped/edited, to present to the world what we want it to see.
It may leave some of us comparing ourselves to others, impacting how we feel about ourselves, our bodies, may contribute to unsupportive eating behaviors, as well as, feeling the need to seek validation/acceptance from sources outside of ourselves.
So how can we be smart consumers when it comes to seeing nutrition and health related content on social media and online, and support our wellbeing too?
The following are just a few ideas to help support you in being a smart consumer of social media when it comes to nutrition and health.
6 Tips to being a Smart Consumer of Social Media when it comes to Nutrition and Health:
1) Check the source:
Anyone can make a claim online, what authority does a person/agency/organization have to offer such information?
What are the credentials of the person sharing this information? Are they a registered dietitian nutritionist, a university(.edu) or government body(.gov), health organization or a body of professionals, like the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics(eatright.org), that have demonstrated expertise in nutrition and health?
2 ) Investigate more:
What evidence is there to back up what this person/agency is saying?
Do their resources come from reliable sources, and are they of good quality?
What do other articles say on the same topic?
If there is little or no evidence, or conflicting information, you may want to explore more.
3) Identify their intent for sharing:
Is it for health promotion/education?
To sell a program, supplement, service, or product, spark more engagement/gain more followers from their content, etc?
4) Is the person/organization/etc. making money off affiliate links, brand partnerships, or sponsored posts?
What is their policy regarding affiliate/sponsored or advertised content?
5) Be aware of red flags:
Red flags may be things that seem too far fetched, black and white, absolute, sound too good to be true, offer a miracle cure, or rapid results.
6) Above all: work with your healthcare team. They are your partners in health after all!
If you see something online and want to further explore, talk to someone on your healthcare team that you can trust. It’s here where you can review the information, talk about the science behind it, and identify any potential risks, so that you can make an informed decision for yourself.
Some additional things to keep in mind:
What one person eats in a day, does not mean that it is appropriate/healthy, or adequate for you.
Nutrition, physical activity, time spent on social media, should all be things that enhance, compliment, and support the quality of your life, not detract from, or consume it.
A balanced eating style is one that allows for all foods to have a seat at the table. A balanced eating style is one that allows you to have adequate energy, adequate nutrition, pleasure and satisfaction, and supports your health goals and overall well-being.
Stories, testimonials, opinions, or unsupported claims, while perhaps enticing, do not equate to objective, evidenced-based information or facts.
Your worth is not based on a number of followers/comments/likes.
For more information on evaluating health information online, see here for a complete guide:
Barklamb AM, Molenaar A, Brennan L, et al. Learning the Language of Social Media: A Comparison of Engagement Metrics and Social Media Strategies Used by Food and Nutrition-Related Social Media Accounts. Nutrients. 2020;12(9):2839. Published 2020 Sep 16. doi:10.3390/nu12092839
Polanco-Levicán K, Salvo-Garrido S. Understanding Social Media Literacy: A Systematic Review of the Concept and Its Competences. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(14):8807. Published 2022 Jul 20. doi:10.3390/ijerph19148807
Dane A, Bhatia K. The social media diet: A scoping review to investigate the association between social media, body image and eating disorders amongst young people. PLOS Glob Public Health. 2023;3(3):e0001091. Published 2023 Mar 22. doi:10.1371/journal.pgph.0001091