Is Social Media Your Health Guru?

Health Writer

Despite the marvelous payoffs that social media offers including immediate connectivity with hot button issues and real time trends, social media to some extent, has become the bane of doctors.

Patients often present with the latest diet, validated by some high profile celebrity, or treatments that they want to try, that may have little or no research or science backing.  Many lifestyle offerings begin with a news headline and then explode on social media or vice versa.  Doctors and health professionals feel there’s a real disconnect between the world of science and research and a fair amount of what’s trending in health—especially weight loss—on the social market.

Look at the diets that trended during 2015

If you look at the popular diet trends of last year, they included: Weight Watchers, DASH, Biggest Loser diet, Mediterranean Diet, Flexitarian Diet, TLC, The Paleo and Dukan Diets, Fertility Diet, and the Mayo Clinic Diet.  Low carb and gluten free diets are also trending. These diets have varying levels of [medical research](file:///C:/Users/Amy%20Hendel/Downloads/Overweight?%20Struggling%20with%20Obesity?%20The%20Latest%20Cutting%20Edge%20Tips%20from%20Obesity%20Week%202015) but that won’t necessarily matter to the patient or consumer.  They choose a specific diet because it has likely trended strong in social media.

The DASH diet is the most popular diet in most medical clinics today, with strong research that backs its success in treating hypertension.  The Biggest Loser diet is fueled by the massive pounds lost by contestants on the popular TV show (though many regain some or all of their weight back).  The Mediterranean diet has exploded, backed by the science that suggests it is an inflammatory diet and “anti-inflammatory foods” are trending strong.  The Paleo and Dukan Diets are trending strong in the fitness world because of their low carb to no carb and high protein elements.

Hashtags that are trending right now

If you go on twitter and are interested in health and weight loss then you’ve likely searched:


#weightwatchers (thanks to Oprah’s announcement)





Data on the American dieting and weight loss scene

One third of all Americans or 108 million are on a diet on any given day.  The dieting and weight loss market is mostly female-driven.  Of those who have lost weight and kept off 30 or more pounds for five years, all individuals on the registry workout for one hour daily, though different diets and techniques may have been used to get to goal weight.

The average cost of bariatric surgery currently ranges between $11,500 and $2600.  The average celebrity who endorses a diet or weight loss program in the media is paid between $500,000 and $3 million.  Those celebrity endorsements, especially if they lose weight in front of the public, is a dramatic force driving consumers to buy into the diet, the program, the foods, supplements and other offerings.

Newspaper versus social media versus the science world

Health information often appears on the news because it’s trending strong in social media.  Studies that make the news can be quite small with flawed methodologies, but if it has a “quick fix” or “astounding weight loss angle,” it gets featured.  Researchers and health professionals are then left trying to appeal to the sensibilities of consumers and patients.  That effort is often a failed attempt at communication.  If the person thinks the news headline is applicable to them – you simply cannot talk them out of trying the diet or weight loss program or other trending therapy.  This will hold true, despite the cost to their pockets, and, often times, their health.

Look at the current gluten craze.  Science shows absolutely no good reason to be on a gluten free diet, and actually suggests a downside (weight gain, loss of vital nutrients, cost) to the choice unless you have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive.  Trying to reason with someone—who decides gluten free is the healthiest diet ever—is nearly impossible.  Instagram and an article in the Wall Street Journal have now fanned the flames of the cauliflower revolution.  There’s nothing wrong with eating cauliflower and using it in recipes (cauliflower rice, cauliflower mashed potatoes, cauliflower pizza dough).  Eating a balanced diet filled with many vegetables, though, is equally important so you get exposure to a bounty of nutrients.

Health professionals need to interface with social mediaDoctors and other health professionals need to be up-to-date on the latest diets, trends and fads.  They should know the foundation for the diet (science, a guru, a celebrity).  The key may then lie in deciphering the healthy elements in the diet, and then offering an informed opinion with additional suggestions.  Slamming the diet or the fad will likely result in a patient who makes their own decisions, despite your well-meant efforts to inform them. ** Communication is at the foundation of working with your patient**.  If you can find commonalities, say, between a diet they want to follow and a science-based, healthier version, you will be well on your way to using science to guide the patient.

Doctors need to discuss the pros and cons of a diet or weight loss plan and really listen to what elements appeal to the patient.  If your patient wants to do try a cleanse (diet), try to suggest that eating a clean diet filled with whole foods and reducing calorie intake will parallel the principles of a diet cleanse without the fasting element, which can be dangerous.  Doctors need to use what’s trending as a tool, and then add a dose of clinical judgement and solid science to communicate and help the patient formulate best eating and lifestyle practices. 

Also check out:

Coconut Craze Gone a Bit Nutty

Now Trending: The Alkaline Diet



Integrative Health Symposium, Hashtag Nutrition, Jamie Schehr, ND, RD, CDN

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