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TikTok Health Videos Can Be Dangerous

Weight-Loss Advice Is Often Misguided

TikTok health trends can be misleading and even dangerous.

By Sean Zucker –

TikTok first gained popularity with its wholesome content made mostly from trendy dance choreography. Unfortunately for many, those positive impressions have eroded in recent years over controversies connected to its apparent lack of privacy regulations and ties to China, the country where it is based. Now, however, a new issue has arisen that to a recent study that sheds light on the social media platform’s negative impact on health.


Researchers at the University of Vermont specifically focused in on what influence many of the weight-loss tips and diet trends boosted by TikTok are having on the young people who use it most. The impact is less than positive and possibly even harmful, according to the Vermont team.


“We were continuously surprised by how prevalent the topic of weight was on TikTok. The fact that billions of people were viewing content about weight on the internet says a lot about the role diet culture plays in our society,” reported study author Marisa Minadeo.


The study’s conclusions were based on an analysis of 1,000 TikTok videos featured under ten of the most popular fitness or nutrition-related hashtags. These tags included #Diet, #BodyPositivity, #FatLoss, #MealPrep, #PlusSize, #WeightLoss, #WeightLossCheck, #WhatIEatInADay, #WeightLossJourney and #Nutrition. Every clip examined had over one billion views.


These short videos mainly featured influencers who shared recipes and eating habits along with tips on how to lose weight and reduce body fat. The Vermont researchers weren’t sold on the related benefits, noting that none of the self-proclaimed TikTok health experts had any real credentials or professional training. They went on to note that most of the touted tactics have little basis in science. 


More worrisome is that many of the weight loss strategies advocated were not long-term solutions and might actually promote toxic diet culture by glorifying unhealthy and extreme body transformations.


“Each day, millions of teens and young adults are being fed content on TikTok that paints a very unrealistic and inaccurate picture of food, nutrition and health,” reported senior researcher and co-author Lizzy Pope. “Getting stuck in weight-loss TikTok can be a really tough environment, especially for the main users of the platform, which are young people.”


The misguided TikTok health trends included body checking, which is an act of seeking reassurance and information about the size, appearance or look of one’s body or a specific body that encourages young people hyperfocus on their weight and body shape. This approach is problematic because bodies come in all different shapes and sizes, and making judgments based on one assumption is dangerous and unrealistic. “Just like people are different heights, we all have different weights,” Pope added. “Weight-inclusive nutrition is really the only just way to look at humanity.”


The research team also warned that pushing harsh and impractical eating demands seen in many of these videos can result in serious psychological problems for high-risk individuals. “Nutrition-related content on TikTok is largely weight normative and may contribute to disordered eating behaviors and body dissatisfaction in the young people that are TikTok’s predominant users,” the study reported. 


Based on its released metrics, TikTok has nearly one billion current users, 60 percent of which are between 16 and 24. This age demographic, especially females, is most at risk of suffering the harmful effects of misguided nutritional and weight loss information. 


The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), a non-profit organization that provides support services to people struggling with eating disorders, reports that 35 to 57 percent of adolescent girls are already engaged in harmful practices such as crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting and taking diet pills or laxatives to control weight. 


Additionally, the association found that 91 percent of women on college campuses have admitted to controlling their weight through dieting. The group warns that all of these occurrences are symptoms of or predecessors to eating disorders. The impact can be deadly as ANAD reports that eating disorders are responsible for more than 10,200 deaths annually. This translates to one death every 52 minutes. 


“We have to help young people develop critical thinking skills and their own body image outside of social media,” Pope advised. “But what we really need is a radical rethinking of how we relate to our bodies to food and to health. This is truly about changing the systems around us so that people can live productive, happy and healthy lives.”





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