KINGSTON, RI – May 4, 2023 – Social media has an inescapable influence on our daily lives, especially among college-aged students, and is a significant source of information – but not always accurate – on all possible topics. basically imagine. That includes information focused on health, exercise and nutrition, which can be very harmful, especially to young people, as a recent URI Nutrition student study showed.
Although the virtual communities created by social media can connect people like never before, it can often divide and discourage people, damaging their self-esteem and making less of the glamorous posters who follow they. While there is research highlighting the negative effects of social media on self-esteem and self-love, there is a gap in examining the intersection of social media and eating choices, patterns and habits among college students, according to first year General Nutrition student Emma Cotter. .
“A lot of what’s out there on social media isn’t backed up by research, but a lot of people are influenced by it anyway and make sure to add food or cut out certain foods,” Cotter said. “There are a lot of ‘What I eat a day’ posts, which aren’t even what people should be eating. In addition, there are many drinks and products on the market that can be put out there without proper information. Many influencers with no nutrition background are working with companies to promote products without understanding the effect of promoting these products.”
Cotter sought to determine the impact of nutrition-related social media posts on college students. She surveyed 100 other first-year nutrition students about their social media use, and specifically how posts about food, nutrition and exercise affect them. She found that “sports,” “nutrition” and “exercise” were among the most common topics respondents searched for on social media. More than 70 percent reported regularly seeing nutrition topics in their news feed, listening to “food swap” advice, and watching videos like “What I Eat in a Day” posted by “influencers” who could or they have no idea what they have. promoting.
“They can be more influential because they have a large following,” Cotter said of the social media celebrities who are often paid to provide advice and recommendations to their followers. “There are a lot of fitness trends that correspond to nutritional trends: ‘Eat this to look like this,’ or ‘Don’t eat this like this.’ That can be detrimental to people who don’t have a nutrition background. It is physically and mentally dangerous. There’s a lot of shame and guilt around eating and what our food choices are.”
Even posts that may appear to offer positive advice on the surface—like “swap posts” that suggest alternatives to satisfy that sweet tooth—could cause physical and mental harm, according to the professor Nutrition and Food Sciences Clinical Assistant Amanda Missimer, who is mentoring. Cotter in his study. So fad diets like Paleo or Keto, which may appear to have positive effects, may be draining your body of key nutrients.
“There is no one-size-fits-all diet pattern, I’m sorry to report. You can’t compare what someone else needs and eats in a day to what you need to eat in a day,” Missimer said. “Faded diets are being thrown at an alarming rate. Every other week, we’re eating something new, we’re cutting out something, we’re following something crazy. The posts on those topics can be dangerous because they make people think they have to replicate exactly what that person is doing to get the same results, which is not true.”
There can be mental distress that can come with the pressure of following diet influencers on social media, and feelings of guilt that can come from failing to maintain such a strict regimen, Cotter said. . And those feelings don’t dissipate immediately. Cotter’s study found that 58 percent of survey respondents “often” or “sometimes” recall nutrition-themed posts throughout the day, with more than half comparing their diets to other people’s diets. which affect them. About half reported adding or removing foods from their diet specifically because of a social media post, and 48 percent reported feeling judged or criticized for their food choices.
“Maybe they feel like ‘I don’t look like this because I’m not eating that,’ or maybe ‘I don’t feel great because I picked a bag of chips today,'” Cotter said. “Sometimes it’s hard to admit that you’re being influenced by someone else, and people may not always be aware that the choices they’re making are not the same.”
It can be scary to be aware of the dietary choices you’re making, but remind yourself that every food — yes, even candy and chips — has a place in a healthy eating pattern, Missimer said.
The ubiquity of social media means that even students from a nutritional background can be influenced by people who don’t know much about the subject.
“Unfortunately, the stuff we say in class isn’t always sexual information,” Missimer said. “What’s so sexy about eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains? Nothing. Now if I go on social media and start talking about the other ‘healthy Pringle equivalents’ I’ve found, people will listen. Many people do not want to hear that fruits and vegetables are healthy. They need change now, and quick fixes are dangerous.”
People without specific knowledge of them may be even more susceptible. Cotter advises social media users – and internet users in general – to scrutinize the sources of their information, leaning more towards websites with .edu or .org suffixes which tend to be more credible than many .coms or the first hit on Google. Review the credentials of the individuals speaking, and look for a registered dietitian credential, as these professionals are trained in translating nutritional science recommendations to individuals and the general public. Be aware of feeding red flags such as suggestions to “cut this out” or rules like “this is only.”
“The study shows that there is a definite link between social media, and people’s diets and nutritional choices,” said Cotter. “Even with people who actively think about nutrition every day, we found that social media still influences them. It is important to be aware of the amount of screen time you are engaging in and to always analyze what you are seeing or reading. It’s hard to eliminate it all, but you want to limit your exposure to harmful educators. Be more critical about what you use and what you’re tracking.”
Emma Cotter is a first year dietetic principal in the Nutrition Department and completed the survey as part of a team in a Nutrition Field Experiential Learning course. Missimer is a clinical assistant professor in the department, and oversees the trusted nutrition communication created by students on URI Nutrition’s social media channels @urinutrition and @rhyodysportsnutrition.