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 say they are. The market for health-minded influencers and content creators has grown exponentially in the pandemic — and with it, more misinformation.
In fact, according to a GoodRx survey, almost three-quarters of Americans have been exposed to medical misinformation, 82% of whom said they see it on social media. Another 35% of respondents also noted they don’t feel confident deciphering which health claims are true versus exaggerated or completely false.
Luckily, there are several key 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’s what to keep an eye on.
How can you immediately tell if a wellness influencer or content creator is credible?
If you stumble upon new health influencers or content creators who seem promising, there are four major elements to think about before hitting the Follow button:
Credentials: Look for easily identifiable educational backgrounds or certifications. These may include medical doctors, dietitians or exercise science professionals. It’s also important to remember that just because someone has credentials in one scientific area doesn’t mean that person is free to speak on all health and wellness issues. “A personal trainer may have great knowledge in physical activity and athleticism and sports, but they don't necessarily have the training or education or credibility to be speaking about diabetes,” dietitian and food writer Abbey Sharp explains.
Research: Sharp also says one of the most important things to look for when anyone is giving health advice on the internet is if influencers use factual and peer-reviewed research to back up their claims, like academic articles and studies from scientific journals as opposed to information solely from other social media creators, message boards or blogs.
Evolution: New research comes out all of the time in various health, nutrition and fitness fields. Do visible people in these spaces update themselves and their followers when incoming research points to something new and important?
Accessibility: Do these wellness or health influencers take time to break down convoluted research for their audiences? How do they approach those conversations?
When should you be more critical of a wellness influencer’s health claims?
Even if wellness influencers and content creators pass an initial credibility check, some claims may pop up over time that warrant a deeper dive. While new buzzwords come into these spaces all the time, a few key terms and phrases appear often in health and wellness discourse and may require more thought before buying into an influencer or content creator’s claims. These can include:
Detoxing and cleanses
“All-natural” foods, supplements and beverages
In particular, Sharp says that social media users should be more cautious if they see anyone on the internet touting a quick fix to complex health or wellness challenges. Many content creators in the space are trying to sell a solution, whether it's a program, supplement or diet plan — and these can often be rooted in sensationalized claims. “My job as a science communicator is to take a little look or try to unpack what the root of a claim may be,” she explains, “because sometimes it's so outlandish.”
How can you fact-check health claims from a wellness influencer?
The common advice to “do your own research” isn’t always helpful given that many people aren’t sure where to start, but social media users can begin with a simple question if they stumble upon a health claim they want to check out: Is it easy to find where that claim originally came from?
While search engines can’t solve everything, Sharp says that the first page of results can show if something came from an individual blog post or message board as opposed to more credible arenas like an academic paper or scientific journal. From there, it’s easier to determine if it’s rooted in some truth or not — or if a content creator is engaging in a lot of speculation.
When should you unfollow an influencer?
Sharp recommends social media users do a quick rundown of the health and wellness content creators they follow on a monthly basis. But in addition to thinking about if they’re making legitimate health claims, she also says it’s important to look inward. “How is this person's content making me feel?” she says people should ask themselves. “Is it making me feel more anxious? Is it making me feel worse than myself? Am I actually getting any tangible actionable tips that are improving my life, rather than just making it more stressful?”
At that point, it may be time to unfollow and look elsewhere.