There seems to be an explosion of nutrition ‘influencers’ on social media and there is no dearth of bombastic statements and promises, such as “lose 10 kilograms in 10 days” or “this one fruit cures X”. Such influencers, almost always, do not hold any qualifications in health or nutrition, but simply have a physique that others may deem as desirable.

Needless to say, achieving a slim body does not mean a person has the knowledge to give others advice on health. Even more worrying, such influencers often have an interest in hyping up promises in order to attract sales of products they are affiliated with. Indeed, many influencers do this as their full-time job, meaning they rely on the sales of the products they advertise.

A team from the University of Glasgow conducted a research study (https:// analysing the credibility of UK social media influencers’ weight-management blogs. They went through the blogs of influencers having more than 80,000 followers and who mainly dealt with the topic of weight loss. Their content was assessed against credibility indicators and the facts they presented were checked against published research and official recommendations.

The results were shocking – 90 per cent of the influencers gave inaccurate or untrustworthy information most of the time. It was also found that the meals posted by these influencers, despite often being touted as low-calorie meals for weight loss, were typically very high in calories. For example, one influencer’s ‘low-calorie’ breakfast consisted of 1,062 calories, while the evening meal contained a whopping 1,500 calories.

The researchers’ summary was that “social media influencers’ blogs are not credible resources for weight management… all influencers should be required to meet accepted scientifi­cally or medically justified criteria for the provision of weight management advice online”.

According to the chairman of the UK National Obesity Forum Tom Fry: “This study adds to the evidence of the destructive power of social media. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can take to the ether, post whatever they like and be believed by their followers.”

Some tips to help one evaluate nutrition information in the media

Is the evidence in the form of a testimonial or a person’s opinion?

Personal opinions and anecdotes are not credible evidence. Just because a person claims something has worked for them does not mean that a particular diet or strategy is effective, safe or supported by science.

Just because a person claims something has worked for them does not mean that a particular diet or strategy is effective, safe or supported by science

Does the claim sound too good to be true?

Just like you (hopefully) feel sceptical when you receive e-mails stating that a foreign prince has left you millions of dollars in his will, claims such as “lose weight effortlessly by taking this one supplement” should signal a red flag. If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is. There are no shortcuts to health (or riches).

Is the information dramatised and with no references to research?

“A glass of wine is equivalent to an hour’s session at the gym” – such claims are written specifically to grab your interest (a practice known as ‘clickbait’) and not backed by any actual evidence.

Is the diet, food or supplement being peddled as a simple solution to a complex issue?

“Eating X prevents cancer”. Complex issues such as medical conditions are not solved by a single food or supplement.

Is the person presenting the information trying to sell something?

“Our cutting-edge supplement reverses diabetes”. Generally, when a product is being advertised, the information will be written with the sole aim of making a profit. If you sense any biases in the article/blog, be extra sceptical.

Who should you be getting your nutrition advice from?

When in doubt, seek the experts. In nutrition, these would be registered

dietitians and nutritionists who hold nationally-recognised academic qualifications and who base their advice strictly on scientific evidence and official guidelines. In Malta, you can find the list of registered professionals

on the Council for Professions Complementary to Medicine’s website:

Dietitians’ register:

Nutritionists’ register:

Manuel Attard is a registered dietitian and nutritionist.

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