Whether it's a vegan recipe blogger, Crossfit coach, or body positive advocate, many of us go to these social media outlets and websites to glean nutritional information, #fitspo, or next week's meal plan. In fact, a 2017 survey found almost 60% of people trust the health advice of under or unqualified professionals.
The European Association for the Study of Obesity sponsored a new study out of the University of Glasgow, looking at the 10 most popular weight management blogs to determine how accurate and responsible the advice was. Researchers concluded only one out the nine most popular bloggers was producing accurate, responsible content—and she was a registered dietitian.
Related: Our Food & Nutrition Philosophy
The researchers conducted a "comprehensive online search" to identify the 14 most popular health-related influencers in the U.K. These influencers needed to have at least 80,000 followers on one or more social media outlets, have verified accounts, run an active weight management blog, and have at least two social media accounts.
From there, a majority of their content needed to be nutrition or exercise-related. This knocked out five of the top influencers. Researchers analyzed posts from May to June 2018 of the remaining influencers against 12 credibility indicators, including transparency, evidence-based references, trustworthiness and adherence to nutritional guidance, and bias.
The researchers also chose the 10 most recent meal recipes of these bloggers and tested their calorie, macronutrient, saturated fat, sugar, fiber, and sodium against U.K. public health and bureaucratic nutritional standards. Only three recipes out of 90 fit the guidelines.
It's important to note out of the top bloggers, the dietitian wasn't the only one with credentials. One medical doctor with a large following failed the study's criteria for responsible, accurate content. Naturally, the lowest-scoring influencers were those with no related qualifications. Most provided nutrition and weight advice without any research-backed evidence or simply presented their opinions as fact.
The bottom line: While social media influencers can certainly be inspiring—providing at-home workouts, delicious recipes, and their personal experiences with nutrition—we absolutely have to be careful who we trust.