TikTok food trends ‘perpetuate toxic diet culture’ among teenagers | Science & Tech News


TikTok food trends are perpetuating a “toxic diet culture” among teenagers, researchers have warned.

According to a University of Vermont study, the most popular videos relating to nutrition and weight often paint an “unrealistic and inaccurate picture”, which could contribute to eating disorders and negative body image.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, are based on analysis of the top 100 videos from 10 nutrition, food and weight-related hashtags on TikTok, all of which had more than a billion views when the study began in 2020.

Since then, the hashtags have grown as the app’s user base has expanded.

Many of the popular videos glorify weight loss and position food as a way to achieve thinness, the study says.

“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,” said senior researcher 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.”

‘Surprising prevalence’ of weight-related videos

Professor Pope and co-author Marisa Minadeo are both keen TikTok users, and sought to look into how it was being used as a source of information about nutrition and eating.

Young people are increasingly turning to TikTok not just for a tailored feed of videos, but also to look up specific terms they may traditionally have used a search engine for.

Earlier this year, a Google senior vice president noted that “almost 40%” of youngsters were choosing TikTok or Instagram to find somewhere to have lunch.

TikTok’s algorithm will then keep serving up similar content to what users have shown an interest in, which researchers say risks them ending up “getting stuck” within certain topics and trends.

“We were continuously surprised by how prevalent the topic of weight was on TikTok,” said Ms Minadeo.

“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.”

‘Youngsters must think about body image beyond social media’

The research from Vermont noted the absence of “considered expert voices” among those creating content about weight loss and nutrition on TikTok.

By that, they mean doctors, dieticians, or certified trainers.

The majority of creators in the space were white, female teenagers and young adults.

“We have to help young people develop critical thinking skills and their own body image outside of social media,” Professor Pope said.

“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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