Don’t trust weight-loss bloggers, warns study

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Weight-management discussions on social media are very influential. But a new study assessing the underlying nutrition and weight-management information provided by key UK social media influencers suggests that their blogs are not credible/trustworthy sources of advice.

The findings, being presented at this year’s European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (28 April-1 May), reveal that just one out of the nine most popular UK bloggers studied met the most important criteria.

Not ‘credible’

The study’s first author, Christina Sabbagh from the University of Glasgow, says the majority of blogs couldn’t be considered “credible” sources of information.

“They often presented opinion as fact and failed to meet UK nutritional criteria,” she said. “This is potentially harmful, as these blogs reach such a wide audience.”

The researchers conducted a comprehensive online search including the ‘influence.co’ website to identify the 14 most popular UK influencers with weight-management blogs.

Influencers were selected on the basis of having more than 80,000 followers on at least one social media site, blue-tick verification (recognition for being influential in their field) on at least two social media sites, and an active weight-management blog.

Blogs by nine influencers published between May and June 2018 were analysed against 12 credibility indicators based on transparency, use of other resources, trustworthiness and adherence to nutritional criteria, and bias. Additionally, the 10 latest meal recipes from each blog were selected and analysed for energy, carbohydrates, protein, fat, saturated fat, fibre, sugar and salt content.

Analyses showed that seven influencers provided nutrition and weight management advice, while five failed to provide evidence-based references for nutrition claims or presented opinion as fact. Additionally, five influencers failed to provide a disclaimer.

One exception

Interestingly, only the degree-qualified blogger, registered as a nutritionist with the UK Association for Nutrition, passed overall, with 83 per cent. Another influencer, a medical doctor, did not pass the checklist. The lowest compliance (25 per cent) was from an influencer without nutritional qualifications.

“Currently, no standards exist to assess the credibility of influencers’ blogs,” Ms Sabbagh said. “Given the popularity and impact of social media, all influencers should be required to meet accepted scientifically or medically justified criteria for the provision of weight management advice online.”