“People won’t be able to follow the Mediterranean diet if they don’t understand what it is and how to incorporate it into their home food environment,”said Margaret Raber, DrPH, assistant professor at the Center for Child Nutrition Research in the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture and Baylor College of Medicine, lead author of the study. “Our findings suggest that while users will find high-quality content created by medical professionals, they will also encounter conflicting, vague, or even misleading information when exploring #mediterraneandiet on TikTok.”
The Mediterranean diet is an eating plan that emphasizes minimally processed plant-based foods while minimizing added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fats. Olive oil looms large, and fish, dairy, and poultry can be included in moderation.
While the diet takes its name from the traditional eating habits of certain countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, not all of the diverse cuisines of the Mediterranean region reflect the Mediterranean diet as scientists and doctors understand it. This has led to confusion about what constitutes the Mediterranean diet.
To assess how this is doing on social media, researchers analyzed the top 200 videos appearing on TikTok under the hashtag #mediterraneandiet in August 2021. They found that most posts (78%) were health-related. one way or another, but less than 9% offered a definition of what the Mediterranean diet entails. One in five posts were not about health at all, focusing exclusively on the food and culture of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
“Alarmingly, a large proportion (69%) of these ‘cultural’ 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 do not fit the Mediterranean diet.
In general, the study found that content created by posters claiming health credentials tended to be more detailed and of higher quality. Just over half (53%) of posters mentioned health information in their account information page, although these posters actually mentioned their health information in less than half of their posts, which which makes it difficult for TikTok users to determine which videos were created by posters with health IDs.
For people exploring nutrition information on social media, Raber suggested searching for content by posters with health references and asking your own health care provider if the information seems contradictory or confusing. For public health practitioners and clinicians, she said the study underscores the need for new strategies to communicate about nutrition and counter misinformation online.
“We need to be vigilant about information found on social media, especially if it influences health and wellness decisions,”said Raber. “I don’t think we can fully harness the power of social media for health promotion unless we address the issue of information quality and give the public tools to help navigate in these new types of media. »