Exercise caution when taking nutritional advice from social media influencers, study finds

Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) examined nearly 700 Instagram posts by influencers and brands with more than 100,000 followers, finding 45% included false nutrition advice.

The study also found that nine out of 10 posts were of low quality when factors such as the author’s professional qualifications, the evidence-base of the information, advertising and commercial interests were taken into account.

Study lead and IPAN PhD candidate, Emily Denniss, said nutrition is a widely discussed topic on social media, prompting concerns about the quality and accuracy of nutrition information shared across platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.

“This is the first study to measure the quality and accuracy of nutrition information on Instagram and our findings suggest it is not always a reliable source of nutrition information,” she said.

The study found brand accounts (such as supplement companies and subscription services for online programs and meal plans) provided the least accurate and lowest quality information, while information about dietary supplements was also mostly inaccurate.

The most accurate and high-quality information was provided by nutritionists and dietitians.

“What we eat has a significant impact on our health and many people use Instagram and other social media platforms for information about diet and meal preparation. Our findings may help people think twice before they make decisions based on the information they have found on Instagram and hopefully look to dietitians and nutritionists for advice instead of influencers or brands.”

According to researchers, some of the worst advice included:

  • Posts advising parents that liver was a suitable first food for babies, which could put children at risk of consuming toxic levels of vitamin A.
  • Posts claiming supplements can ‘boost immunity’ as supplements are a costly alternative to a healthy diet.

Examples of the best advice included:

  • Dietitians and nutritionists posting about the benefits of eating more plant food such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and the importance of a variety of plant-based foods for gut health and overall health. This is in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines and current research.

Ms Denniss said it was important for social media users to be wary of brands or influencers sneakily trying to sell products.

“It is worth checking the qualifications of people providing information. Dietitians and registered nutritionists are qualified to provide information about nutrition. And be cautious of anyone who says that there is one right way to eat. There are many ways to eat a healthy balanced diet.

“If in doubt, talk to a dietitian, registered nutritionist or your doctor before making major decisions related to diet.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Want more? Read the latest issue of ANMJ



Advertise with ANMJ

The ANMJ provides a range of advertising opportunities within our printed monthly journal and via our digital platforms.