Researchers warn of bad TikTok dieting advice

·2-min read

Researchers have warned that dieting advice found on TikTok is often misleading or incomplete.

Mediterranean-style diets - incorporating but not exclusively featuring plant-based foods, whole grains and beans alongside olive oil and limited fish, dairy and poultry - have long been promoted as beneficial to health.

However, nutritionists have found that advice linked to the hashtag #mediterraneandiet on TikTok in August 2021 was not offering full definitions of the diet - or in some cases, any health advice at all.

Margaret Raber, assistant professor in the Children's Nutrition Research Center at the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Baylor College of Medicine, said: "Our findings suggest that while users will find some high-quality content created by health professionals, they will also encounter conflicting, vague or even misleading information when exploring #mediterraneandiet on TikTok."

Researchers analysed the first 200 videos appearing on TikTok under the hashtag and found that most posts (78 per cent) were related to health in some way, but less than 9 per cent offered a definition of what the Mediterranean diet entails. They also found a large portion of posts promoted foods from Mediterranean countries that were not associated with the scientific benefits of the diet.

"Alarmingly, a large portion (69 per cent) of these 'culture' posts promoted foods that are not part of the healthy eating pattern promoted by the Mediterranean diet, such as red meat, refined carbohydrates, sweets and processed foods," said Raber.

For example, lamb kebab and pita bread are popular foods in some Mediterranean countries but lack health benefits.

There were also concerns over the credentials of those posting dietary advice, as only half listed these on a profile page - with even those who did so often failing to add these to posts.

Raber added that care needs to be taken to help the public become more "vigilant" in assessing health advice on social media.

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