The most-consumed TikTok videos about nutrition and weight loss may encourage eating disorders in teens and young adults, according to a new study.
- Eating disorders (TCA) affect nearly one million people in France. More than half of them are not screened and do not yet access care. In addition, 44% of French women say they have suffered from dietary imbalances in their lives, according to a recent Ipsos survey.
- In 2021, TikTok became the first non-Facebook mobile app to surpass 3 billion downloads worldwide.
Body image issues, impossible slimming diets, influencers without expertise… “Every day, millions of teens and young adults receive content on TikTok that paints a highly unrealistic and inaccurate picture of food, nutrition and health”says Lizzy Pope, associate professor of dietetics at the University of Vermont, in the United States.
In a new study, published in the journal Plos Oneresearcher reveals top content on TikTok about food, nutrition and weight perpetuates diet culture “toxic” for teenagers and young adults.
The prevalence of “weight” in TikTok nutrition videos
The first of its kind, the study is based on an analysis of the top 100 TikTok videos from 10 popular hashtags related to these three subjects (diet, nutrition and weight), each of these hashtags counting more than a billion views at the moment. of research. However, it is the videos glorifying weight loss and seeing food as a means to achieve thinness that have the most success on TikTok. The slimming trends highlighted by the algorithm can even be dangerous.
More generally, the idea that weight is the most important criterion for assessing a person’s health largely predominates. “We have been continually surprised by the prevalence of the subject of weight. The fact that billions of people watch weight content on the internet speaks volumes about the role that food culture plays in our society”underlines the researcher Marisa Minadeo, co-author of the work, in a communicated.
“Getting stuck in TikTok weight loss can be a very difficult, toxic environment”adds Lizzy Pope, who is worried about the effects on the negative body image conveyed by social networks and the eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, etc.) or behavior (excessive sport) that this can cause in Some young people. “Just as people have different heights, we all have different weights. Weight-inclusive nutrition is really the only fair way to look at humanity.”
A lack of expertise from TikTok influencers
Another problem: the lack of expertise of these self-proclaimed nutritionists. There are a few, of course, but influencers who also have an academic or food specialist cap are not highlighted in the TikTok landscape. “White teenage girls and young adults made up the majority of content creators analyzed in the study. Very few creators were considered expert voices, with credentials, such as a dietitian, doctor, or certified coach”warns Lizzy Pope. “We need to help young people develop critical thinking and their own body image outside of social media.”
Regularly singled out, TikTok is not the first to be accused of encouraging certain eating behaviors toxic to health. Two studies, one in 2016 and the other in 2019, had already associated the use of social networks Instagram and Snapchat with a greater risk of suffering from anorexia, bulimia and other eating and body perception disorders. “What we really need, [c’est] to change the systems around us so that people can live productive, happy and healthy lives”concludes Lizzy Pope.