Want reliable dietary advice? Don’t head to TikTok | health and fitness

WEDNESDAY, June 15, 2022 (HealthDay News) — A new study warns that social media giant TikTok is filled with confusing and misinformation about the heart-healthy, plant-based approach to eating dubbed the Mediterranean diet.

For the study, the researchers analyzed 200 videos posted on the platform last August. They were the first to appear when searching for content tagged #mediterraneandiet. By definition, this tag, or label, suggests that the videos are likely to contain diet-specific information.

But any of the roughly 1 billion TikTok users who viewed them would find that less than 1 in 10 included a definition of the term.

And 20% of the posts made no reference to the health aspects of a diet long hailed for its heart-healthy benefits.

Instead, they focused exclusively on tourism-related topics such as “Greek hotels promoting Mediterranean culture, Italian restaurants and the like,” noted lead researcher Margaret Raber, from the Center for Nutrition Research children from the United States Department of Agriculture and Baylor College of Medicine. in Houston.

Fortunately, she says, the dietary information provided was not all bad.

“Nutrition misinformation exists on a spectrum, and much of what we found was pretty benign,” Raber said.

Just over half of TikTok posts were shared by people who claimed to have nutritional or medicinal knowledge or expertise, according to the study. These posts, she said, tended to be more detailed and informative.

“Now, that doesn’t mean everyone who claims to be a doctor on TikTok necessarily is,” Raber said. “But we found that people claiming to be health professionals posted better quality information about the Mediterranean diet.”

Overall, many of the posts her team reviewed were “confusing, maybe, but probably not dangerous,” she added.

Raber noted that a previous review of the quality of cancer-related nutrition information available on social media platform Pinterest “unveiled far more concerning levels of misinformation and health claims.”

Yet her team found that many TikToks featured food choices that had little to do with a diet that prioritizes fruits and vegetables, olive oil, whole grains and beans, as well as low to moderate amounts of fish, chicken and dairy.

For example, nearly 7 out of 10 TikToks reviewed highlighted red meat, refined carbohydrates and/or sweets and processed foods, even though the Mediterranean diet discourages the consumption of added sugars, refined carbohydrates and/or saturated fats.

The upshot, the researchers say, is that TikTok users who aren’t yet familiar with what the Mediterranean diet is might come out with less-than-knowledgeable videos.

“I suggest people just approach the food information they find online with a critical mind and an awareness,” Raber said. “If the dietary advice seems extreme, confusing, or inconsistent, talk to your doctor.”

For high-quality disease prevention and control information, Raber said the American Heart Association, American Institute for Cancer Research, and American Diabetes Association are a few national organizations that provide it. A separate study offered advice for nutrition professionals looking to use social media to spread awareness about healthy eating.

For its part, in 2021, TikTok launched its #FactCheckYourFeed campaign. It aims to steer users away from diet misinformation and towards trusted sources, such as the British Dietetic Association and a number of nutritionists considered to be trusted sources of dietary advice.

“It’s really important to us that our users feel they have access to the right support and guidance with food and exercise information online,” TikTok said in a statement at the time of the press release. launch.

Lona Sandon, program director in the Department of Clinical Nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, was not surprised by the results of the new study.

“The internet and social media are fueled by nutrition misinformation — it always has been,” said Sandon, who was not involved in the study.

“What I find alarming is that more than half of these posters claimed to be medical professionals, while almost 70% of the posters provided incorrect information and only 9% defined the diet,” a- she declared. “That means there are a lot of health professionals out there spreading the wrong information about nutrition.”

Given that most health professions don’t require nutrition training, this is concerning, Sandon said. She noted that the researchers did not specify what credentials those claiming to be medical professionals actually possessed.

In addition to the trusted sources highlighted by Raber, Sandon said anyone seeking nutrition information online should seek advice shared by dietitians/nutritionists “for greater assurance that the information provided is truthful and science-based. nutrition”.

Raber is due to present the results Tuesday at an online meeting of the American Society for Nutrition. Studies presented at meetings are generally considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The American Heart Association says more about the Mediterranean diet.

SOURCES: Margaret Raber, DrPH, MPH, assistant professor, Center for Child Nutrition Research, US Department of Agriculture and Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, LD, program director and associate professor, clinical nutrition, School of Health Professions, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; American Society for Nutrition Meeting, June 14-16, 2022

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