Health misinformation on social media can have dangerous consequences for young consumers

By Camryn Smith

Health and fitness supplements in stock at Popeye’s Supplements on McPhillips Street./CAMRYN SMITH

Jenna Nolan found herself bedridden after trying to combat her COVID-19 isolation by pursuing a trendy diet she found on Instagram in February.

“All I remember is grabbing onto the doorknob of my bedroom and holding on until my mom came running,” said Nolan, a student at the University of Winnipeg. 

Nolan has had a gym membership for years, but admits it’s been hard to stay active and maintain a healthy diet while facilities are closed. Instead, she finds herself scrolling through Instagram and TikTok for hours every day. 

The influencer marketing industry is worth billions of dollars, and its growth is trending upwards, fast. Nolan said on average she clicks on about five promoted products a day and follows almost 200 influencers. 

“My health has taken a beating and unfortunately so has my wallet,” said Nolan. “Almost $200 wasted on weight loss gimmicks and fitness apps.”

Shauna Muldrew is a certified health coach who shares healthy meal ideas and quick workouts via Instagram.  She said she follows the Canada Food Guide and uses knowledge she learned from her kinesiology degree.

“Before you get enticed by a product, remember those people are being paid to promote it,” said Muldrew, the founder of Infinity Nutrition and Health Coaching. 

Muldrew said she’s concerned about misinformation being promoted on social media and often has to remind herself to read the fine print when seeing a catchy headline.  

“There’s a huge market for false promises, but that just leads to disappointment and a continued lack of achievement,” said Muldrew. “Take it from someone who’s tried all the yo-yo diets and supplements out there, it can be a very slippery slope.”

Muldrew said she’s looked for a quick fix to health and fitness, but has learned over time such things don’t realistically exist. Instead, she often refers to credible sources like the Canada Food Guide.

A Harvard University study suggests many people feel overwhelmed by the amount of information about different diets, but the key to a healthy weight is realistic, healthy food choices and an active lifestyle.