From weight loss medications to fish oil supplements, the internet is full of wellness, nutrition and fitness claims that may not be as beneficial as some claim. The market for health-conscious influencers and content creators has grown exponentially during the pandemic – and with it, more misinformation.
Actually, loudly a GoodRx surveyNearly three-quarters of Americans have been exposed to medical misinformation, with 82% of them saying they see it on social media. Another 35% of respondents also said they don’t feel sure which health claims are true, exaggerated or outright false.
Luckily, there are several important metrics to consider when vetting new wellness influencers or content creators to follow, as well as steps to take to ensure what they post online remains accurate. Here you can find out what you should pay attention to.
How can you instantly tell if a wellness influencer or content creator is credible?
When you come across new health influencers or content creators that seem promising, there are four important elements to think about before hitting the follow button:
Credentials: Look for easily recognizable educational backgrounds or certifications. These may include doctors, nutritionists or sports scientists. It is also important to remember that just because someone has qualifications in a scientific field does not mean that person has the freedom to speak out on all health and wellness topics. “A personal trainer may have great knowledge of physical activity, athletics and sports, but they may not necessarily have the training or credibility to talk about diabetes,” says the nutritionist and food writer Abbey Sharp explained.
Research: Sharp also says that one of the most important things to look for when giving health advice online is whether influencers are using factual, peer-reviewed research to support their claims, such as scientific articles and studies from scientific journals, and not just information from other social media creators, message boards or blogs.
Evolution: There are always new research findings in the areas of health, nutrition and fitness. Do visible people in these areas update themselves and their followers when in-depth research points to something new and important?
Accessibility: Do these wellness or health influencers take the time to break down complicated research for their audiences? How do you approach these conversations?
When should you be more critical of a wellness influencer’s health claims?
Even when wellness influencers and content creators pass an initial credibility check, over time some claims may emerge that warrant a deeper dive. While new buzzwords are constantly emerging in these areas, some key terms and phrases appear frequently in health and wellness discourse and may require more consideration before buying into an influencer or content creator’s claims. These can include:
In particular, Sharp says social media users should be more cautious when they see someone online touting a quick fix to complex health or wellness issues. Many content creators in this space are trying to sell a solution, be it a program, a supplement, or a diet plan – and these are often based on sensational claims. “My job as a science communicator is to take a little look at it or try to unravel the root of a claim,” she explains, “because sometimes it’s so outlandish.”
How can you verify health claims from a wellness influencer?
The general advice of “do your own research” isn’t always helpful because many people aren’t sure where to start, but social media users can start with a simple question when they come across a health claim they want to verify: Is Is it easy to find out where this claim originally came from?
While search engines can’t solve everything, Sharp says the first page of results can show whether something came from a single blog post or message board, as opposed to more credible areas like an academic paper or academic journal. From there, it’s easier to determine whether or not there’s any truth behind it – or whether a content creator is engaging in a lot of speculation.
When should you unfollow an influencer?
Sharp recommends that social media users do a quick monthly overview of the health and wellness content creators they follow. But she says it’s important not only to think about whether they’re making legitimate health claims, but also to look within. “How does this person’s content make me feel?” She says people should ask themselves. “Does this make me feel more anxious? Does this make me feel worse than myself? Am I actually getting concrete, actionable tips that will improve my life instead of just making it more stressful?”
At this point, it may be time to forgo the follower and look elsewhere.