TikTok promotes 'toxic' diet culture, 'glorifies' weight loss: study – New York Post

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It’s time to reconsider taking diet and nutrition advice from TikTok influencers.
A new study published in the science journal PLOS One shows that TikTok promotes “toxic” diet culture and “glorifies” extreme weight loss.
The scientists analyzed 1,000 videos across 10 popular fitness- or nutrition-related hashtags. Each video reviewed had over one billion views since the study began in 2020.
Researchers hoped to determine key themes in TikTok videos surrounding food, nutrition and weight. Themes included the glorification of weight loss, the portrayal of food to achieve health and thinness — and the lack of experts.
The content of the videos ranged from influencers sharing their favorite recipes and daily eating habits to tips on how to lose weight and reduce body fat.
Scientists found that most diet advice on the platform came from young, white female influencers — not experts. These influencers went viral for being attractive or charismatic, but have no credentials to be giving “nutrition” advice, the study said.
“We didn’t see any expert voices in this conversation,” Dr. Lizzy Pope, an associate professor in the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department at the University of Vermont who led the study, told The Post. “There are very few doctors or dietitians that were interacting in this content. So it was basically just all people that are taking their personal experience and sharing it with the world which can be valuable. But in nutrition, there’s so much bad information out there, that we have to be so careful.”
Dr. Pope said that much of the content the study analyzed “was promoting weight loss, or needing to get to a particular body size” with videos “making it look really easy, like do these five exercises, and you will lose 15 pounds in no time — or messaging like that.”
“It was so pervasive,” she said. “There was a lot of subliminal messaging around what bodies and foods should look like to kind of match up to the thin ideal. So many of the videos talked about trying to achieve a particular body shape that was implied, or just definitely, thin.”
Other videos researchers analyzed pointed out the benefits and harms of diet culture.
“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,” study co-author Marisa Minadeo, a nutrition expert at the University of Vermont, said in a press release.
The videos reviewed in the study included hashtags like #BodyPositivity, #Diet, #FatLoss, #MealPrep, #PlusSize, #WeightLoss, #WeightLossCheck, #WhatIEatInADay, #WeightLossJourney and #Nutrition.
“Nutrition-related content on TikTok is largely weight normative, and may contribute to disordered eating behaviors and body dissatisfaction in the young people that are TikTok’s predominant users,” the study said.
Younger people are more vulnerable to eating disorders, which develop most frequently between the ages of 12 and 15, Johns Hopkins Medicine noted, and eating disorders affect around 3% of women at some point in their lives.
Given that 60% of TikTok’s 800 million users are between the ages of 16 and 24, viral diet videos are especially harmful to the audience, researchers said.
“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,” Dr. Pope said in the release.
“Getting stuck in weight loss TikTok can be a really tough environment, especially for the main users of the platform, who are young people.”
There have been many concerning trends that have made their way onto users’ For You Pages.
Body checking — the act of seeking reassurance and information about the size, appearance or look of one’s body or a specific body — has encouraged young women to hyperfocus on their weight and body shape.
There are also plenty of gut-health trends that experts have warned against, including a saltwater flush that supposedly “cleans and flushes” the “sludge” out of your guts and is being used to lose weight fast.
And there’s one trend that doesn’t seem so harmful at first thought — dipping carrots in mustard. Experts are concerned this promotes disordered eating and is considered a “quick fix.”
Researchers believe strategies like helping users decipher credible nutrition advice and getting rid of triggering content might help address the problem.
Dr. Pope told The Post that while TikTok has begun redirecting users to eating disorder resources for some videos, influencers should not be considered medical experts.
“There’s no way that like an influencer online or a company can tell us what’s going to help us,” she said. “We need to visit a doctor.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, you can get help. Call the National Eating Disorder Association helpline at (800) 931-2237 or visit NationalEatingDisorders.org.

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