Ask Keri: How can I tell fact from fiction when it comes to health trends on Instagram?
Keri Says: There’s a famous quote from legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow that kind of makes it seem like he could see into the future. “The speed of communications is wondrous to behold,” Murrow said. “It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”
In other words, did someone tip Murrow off about the Instagram age, like, more than 50 years in advance? (Joking!) But seriously, when it comes to health trends, the all-things-shared-at-the-speed-of-light age we’re living in makes deciphering fact from fiction really difficult. (Yes, it also makes it easy to get information about living healthier lives out to people that need it, so that’s the positive side.)
If you’re a wellness professional, figuring out how to sift through the bad and amplify the good is crucial to your reputation and business. And even if you’re an influencer who isn’t boasting credentials, it’s majorly irresponsible to share information without making sure you can trust the source and what it will mean for your followers. Just because it’s popular doesn’t make it true (or safe).
Here are three of my top tips that should help you evaluate health trends based on facts, not followers.
3 Tips to Evaluate Instagram Health Trends
1. Learn to read science, not just cite it
Nutrition science is seriously complicated (sorry!), and there are so many studies that show tiny correlations that are then blown up into huge headlines that exaggerate (or totally get wrong) the kinds of conclusions that can be drawn from the research. Studies are also poorly designed and funded by corporations that have a direct interest in the results, resulting in skewed conclusions. You can find some of my tips on how to read nutrition research, here.
2. Consider, but don’t depend on, anecdotal evidence
If a heck of a lot of people online are saying they’re benefiting from something, that’s a great reason to be interested in and intrigued by it. It’s not, however, proof that it’s working.
Take celery juice, for example. The only evidence given for its purported miracle-cure properties is the people who are drinking it and saying they feel better. Okay, great! Does that mean drinking celery juice every morning makes you feel amazing? Well, what if a lot of those people weren’t eating any vegetables before? In that case, the effect might simply be coming from the fact that now they’re regularly consuming vegetables (cool!). Or how many of those people were eating donuts for breakfast and are now subbing in celery juice? Maybe those people feel better because they’re suddenly not starting the day with 25 grams of processed sugar? This is why science is needed: to control for the many other confounding variables that muddy the waters.
When science on an anecdotal phenomenon doesn’t exist (because it’s often behind), you may not be able to confirm whether or not it will help with a certain outcome, but the important thing is to determine whether or not there is any potential harm. If not, then encouraging people to try something for themselves is an okay route to follow.
3. Find a smart, supportive community
How many times have you heard something, formed an opinion, and then had a smart friend bring up a point you hadn’t thought of? It’s hard to think about things and evaluate them in a silo. That’s where having either a mentor or a community (or both!) to bounce things off of is key. It’s why many of the Nutritious Life Certified grads cite the community of wellness pros they become a part of after graduation as just as valuable as the education itself. Find your tribe and then turn to them when you need help making sense of whatever the “next” turmeric is at the moment.