Of the most popular weight management blogs in the United Kingdom, only one of nine met criteria for transparency, evidence-based references, impartiality and adherence to nutritional guidance, according to data from a cross-sectional study presented at the European Congress on Obesity.
“Social media influencers can be extremely influential; they are able to connect with their followers and shape their attitudes and behaviors,” Christina Sabbagh, MSc, policy and communications officer at Obesity Action Scotland, told Endocrine Today. “In weight management, this could be a problem as there is no requirement for influencers to be qualified in any way. They could be spreading opinion-based rather than evidence-based advice, and that could encourage the spread of misinformation. This misinformation can act to undermine efforts of evidence-based campaigns by public health organizations.”
Sabbagh and colleagues analyzed data from nine influencers behind popular weight management blogs, published between May and June 2018. Influencers had at least 80,000 followers on at least one social media site, blue-tick verification (recognition for being influential in the field) on at least two social media sites, and an active weight management blog. Blogs with less than 50% of posts focused on nutrition or physical activity were excluded.
Researchers analyzed the content of blogs to see if each met 12 credibility indicators identified via systematic review and based on transparency, use of other resources, trustworthiness, adherence to nutritional criteria and bias. Questions were yes/no, with an acceptable pass rate defined as more than 70%. Researchers also selected the last 10 recipes from each blog and analyzed them for energy, carbohydrate, protein, fat, saturated fat, fiber, sugar and salt content. Recipes were evaluated against Public Health England’s “One You” calorie-reduction campaign and the U.K. Food Standards Agency’s traffic light rating system.
Seven of nine blogs provided nutrition and weight management advice. Five blogs failed to provide evidence-based references for nutrition claims or presented opinion as fact, according to researchers. Five influencers failed to provide a disclaimer.
In the release, Sabbagh noted that three blogs claimed that recipes met the Public Health England and Food Standard Agency’s calorie targets; however, upon analysis, none of the recipes met such criteria.
Of the advice-based blogs, only a degree-qualified blogger, registered on the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists, passed overall, with 75%, researchers wrote. The lowest compliance, at 25%, was from an influencer without nutritional qualifications, according to researchers.
“The findings suggest that not all social media influencer weight-management blogs can be recommended as credible resources for weight management,” Sabbagh said. “A credible title online may not always lead to credible information. We should be making sure that qualified professionals set an example by setting and maintaining high standards.”
Sabbagh added that poor online weight-management advice and information could affect weight loss efforts, particularly as recipes may not be as healthy as suggested and a lack of nutrition information means the public cannot self-regulate their intake. – by Regina Schaffer
Sabbagh C, et al. Assessing credibility of online nutritional information: Analysis of key UK social media influencers’ weight management blogs. Presented at: European Congress on Obesity; April 28-May 1, 2019; Glasgow, Scotland.
Disclosure: Sabbagh reports no relevant financial disclosures.