Professionals, students offer guidance for navigating health information on social media

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Social media is becoming an increasingly popular way to share health information. These health accounts on Instagram either belong to individuals mentioned in the article or accounts they follow and recommend. (Made in Canva by Mckenna Schmidt)

Research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research affirmed that social media is a growing platform for the spread of health information, but professionals and students say diligence is needed when disseminating information.

The study on social media use for health purposes revealed the internet has been helpful in “advancing health research and practice, social mobilization and facilitating offline health-related services and events.” The study also acknowledged, however, the limited research in areas such as its impact on health outcomes.

Piper Kidd created an Instagram account where she shares vegan versions of popular desserts or other foods. Kidd is a nutritional science major at BYU. (@veganish.pip via Instagram)

Nina Passero is a functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner and works as a wellness and transformation coach. Passero said she has been present in the wellness space on social media for over eight years — it is how she gained most of her business, including clients and referrals. 

Passero also commented, however, on the nuance necessary when making health decisions and how social media often presents harmful generalizations. She gave examples of trends she has witnessed over the years such as the ketogenic diet, or “keto,” intermittent fasting and celery juice. 

“I find that social media can be a very noisy place when it comes to health and wellness,” Passero said. “A really big missing piece is that people are talking about the benefits, but they aren’t specific about who this would be right for.”

Passero acknowledged the desire many people have to improve their health, however, she said, one needs to trust their body.

“The human body has an innately beautiful wisdom … trust that, no matter how hard it gets along the way,” she said.

In navigating this sea of information, Passero said it can be beneficial to follow a variety of accounts with different perspectives, to work with a practitioner if possible and to not become hyper-focused on one area of healing.

Debbie Gardner is the senior wellness manager at the local health food store Good Earth Markets and offered a similar perspective.

Gardner said she personally follows both “strict vegans and strict carnivores, and there is good information on both ends.”

Following a variety of accounts allows people to take in different types of information and then decide what is best for them, she said. Gardner was positive about the impact health information found through social media has had on her life.

“Health information should be free and social media allows a free way to access so much different information,” Gardner said.

Piper Kidd is a BYU nutritional science major and has created her own account on Instagram dedicated to sharing healthy recipes. 

Her handle @veganish.pip describes her personal health philosophy. Kidd has found she feels good eating primarily vegan food, but she said she listens to her body and allows for flexibility. 

Taycie Stewart is a pre-dietetics major at BYU and gave her take on health information on social media. She said she is a proponent of health being a positive and uplifting part of life. (Photo courtesy of Taycie Stewart)

“There are definitely harmful trends on social media, like the ‘what I eat in a day’ trend — those drive me nuts and they aren’t helpful,” Kidd said. 

She said at the beginning of her health journey she was more influenced by the changing trends. Kidd commented on the “skinny blonde Hawaii moms who only drink smoothies all day” and how she realized quickly that lifestyle was not sustainable for her. 

Her personal advice on health and healing is to “make it more lighthearted” and “make it fun.” She said sometimes social media can distract from that. 

Taycie Stewart is a BYU pre-dietetics major and commented on how her personal health philosophy is sometimes not reflected on social media. 

“Health should be a positive thing — that we are eating the way we are eating because we want to and we choose to move our body because we want to … not because we feel like society is pressing that down on us,” she said. 

Stewart said she has focused on filling her social media feed with accounts that share “uplifting” health information, but said it can also be become harmful if people are not careful.

“I have had a few friends who have seen something on social media that maybe wouldn’t seem like a big deal to other people, but for them, it was really triggering and it actually led to some harmful effects,” Stewart said.

Stewart said her advice is to avoid any health trends on social media that lead someone to micromanage their behaviors, commenting on the importance of not over-complicating health. 

Lindsey Higginson, a BYU dietetics major, commented on the connections she has made through social media that have benefited her health journey and impacted her future career.

Lindsey Higginson comments on how social media can be used to improve one’s health. Higginson is a dietetics major at BYU and has seen both the positives and negatives of disseminating health information on the internet. (Mckenna Schmidt)

“I have been able to meet a lot of people that are macro coaches or nutritionists or registered dietitians,” she said.

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