Surprising Ways Social Media Influences Our Health Decisions (2023)

Surprising Ways Social Media Influences Our Health Decisions (1)Share on Pinterest

From trying a new workout we spotted on Facebook to jumping on the Instagram celery juice bandwagon, we’ve all probably made health decisions based on our social media feed to some degree.

With the average person now spending over two hours a day on various social media platforms, it’s only natural that the friends and influencers we follow online affect our real-world decisions around our well-being.

But just how much does what we take in through a newsfeed change what we do in real life? And are these effects ultimately beneficial, or do they have unintended negative consequences?

Although research is beginning to unpack these questions, our own experiences also tell the tale.

Here’s a look at some of the surprising ways users say social media has fueled their health — or harmed it — and how to get the most out of your own time online.

Pro vs. con: How does social media showcase health?

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The pro: Social media can provide health inspiration

After all, you can hardly scroll through Pinterest without passing by a gorgeous salad or must-try smoothie.

Sometimes, getting images of good-for-you foods in your line of sight provides the oomph you need to opt for veggies at dinner — and feel awesome about it.

“I enjoy finding recipe inspiration from other feeds,” says Instagram user Rachel Fine. “This has helped to expand my knowledge when it comes to food and recipes.”

The posts we see on social media can also boost our motivation toward fitness goals or offer us hope for a healthier future.

Aroosha Nekonam, who struggled with anorexia, says female bodybuilders’ Instagram and YouTube accounts provided something to aspire to in the midst of her eating disorder.

“They inspired me to push through my recovery so I too could focus on physical strength,” she says. “They gave me fuel and a goal to work toward, which made the dark times and hard moments in my recovery easier to push through. I saw a reason to succeed. I saw something I could be.”

The con: Social media can foster unrealistic expectations of health

While drool-worthy Buddha bowls and Crossfit bodies can fire us up for health, there can also be a dark side to these glowing wellness themes.

When the images we see online present perfection, we may end up feeling that healthy eating and physical fitness are unattainable, or only for a select few.

“Social media can give the impression that creating ‘perfect meals’ and meal prepping can almost be effortless,” says dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, RDN. “When it isn’t, users can experience frustration and feel like they aren’t doing it correctly, which can cause them to give up completely.”

Additionally, following diet culture accounts that constantly glorify thinness or make judgements about types of food is stressful.

“Even as someone four years recovered from an eating disorder, I still feel pressure sometimes from the fitness industry on Instagram,” notes Insta user Paige Pichler. She experienced this recently when a social media post overrode her body’s own cues for rest.

“My body was begging for a break, so I came around to the idea of taking a night off from the gym. I saw a workout post on Instagram and was less grounded in my conviction.”

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The pro: Social media can be a safe space to get support and discuss health

Though the impersonal nature of connecting with others from behind a screen receives criticism, the anonymity of social media actually has its advantages.

When a health condition is too painful or embarrassing to talk about in person, an online forum can provide a safe space. Nekonam says that during her days with anorexia, social media became a lifeline.

“I had shut myself away from my friends and family. I was avoiding social situations because I had a lot of anxiety and shame surrounding my disorder. I turned to social media for contact with the outside world.”

Angie Ebba, who lives with chronic illness, says she’s found Facebook groups also offer an environment for like-minded people to share health struggles.

“These groups have given me a place to ask questions about treatment without judgment,” she explains. “It’s nice to follow other chronically ill folks online, as it makes the bad days not feel quite as isolating.”

This type of emotional support could have powerful physical effects, too, since social connection improves overall health.

The con: Social media can become an echo chamber of negativity

Research has also shown that the mental health phenomenon known as “emotional contagion,” in which emotions are transferred between people, is especially powerful on Facebook.

While this can work for good, that’s not always the case.

If someone you follow focuses solely on the negative aspects of a health condition, or if a group only bemoans the difficulties of weight loss, it’s possible your own mental and physical health could be affected or influenced for the worse.

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The pro: Social media provides access to helpful products and health information

Social media has largely taken the place of resources like cookbooks for recipes, physical videos for at-home workouts, and a dusty old medical encyclopedia for answers to health questions.

And the reach of the internet means we hear about health products and helpful information we’d probably have been ignorant of 30 years ago — and, often, that’s a positive thing.

Instagram user Julia Zajdzinski says she first heard about a life-changing health and wellness book on social media after a friend shared the info. “I immediately went out and bought it and started doing exactly what the book suggested,” she says.

As a result, she’s achieved a healthier weight and improved thyroid function.

The con: Social media can promote false “experts” and advertise unhealthy products

Taking health advice from influencers whose only qualification is a massive following may come with unfortunate consequences.

“I went through a really dark period where I was following so many fitness/healthy influencers and was fully convinced that they knew everything about how to live a ‘healthy’ life,” says Brigitte Legallet. “It resulted in a pretty dark time full of over-exercise and food restriction.”

And just like a newsfeed of fruits and veggies can inspire nutritious choices, a barrage of junk food how-to videos might normalize an unhealthy eating pattern.

Not surprisingly, a 2018 study found that when kids watched YouTube influencers eating unhealthy snacks, they subsequently consumed an average of over 300 extra calories.

The opposite can be true, too.

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For folks with a history of disordered eating or an eating disorder, seeing calorie counts, food swaps, and food judgment-based posts can be triggering. They may feel guilt or shame around their current habits or fall back into a pattern of disordered eating.

When it comes to our health choices, we all want to be in control — and, fortunately, social media is one place where we truly have this option.

To curate a feed that helps — not harms — your wellness, try setting boundaries around how much time you spend on social media in the first place. One study found that the more people used Facebook, the less they reported both mental and physical well-being.

Then, take stock of the influencers and friends you follow and the groups you’re a member of. Do you find them inspiring you toward better living, or weighing you down? Delete or unfollow as needed.

And if you feel the standards of perfection putting you at risk of unhealthy patterns, pay attention.

“Following dietitians who take an anti-diet, health-at-every-size approach to food is an awesome start,” social scientist and eating disorder specialist Melissa Fabello, PhD advises. “Following accounts that help to explain and inspire intuitive and mindful eating are also helpful.”

Palinski-Wade also encourages a reality check: “Use social media for inspiration and creative ideas, but be realistic with it. Most of us don’t eat dishes that look like they belong on our Instagram and Pinterest feeds. Even influencers don’t eat like that every day. Remember, social media is a job for them and they spend hours each day creating content to share.”

Finally, if you’re seeking health information, remember that the number of followers isn’t necessarily an indicator of expertise.

It’s best to get answers to health questions from a credentialed professional in the real world than an influencer on Instagram.

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Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.

FAQs

How social media influences your health? ›

However, multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. Social media may promote negative experiences such as: Inadequacy about your life or appearance.

How does the media influence our lifestyle choices? ›

Social media and other media can influence the decisions that pre-teens and teenagers make about their health and lifestyle. For example, media messages and content can make it look 'normal', cool or grown-up to eat junk food, smoke, vape, drink alcohol and take other drugs.

What are the effects of social media and influences on people's food choices? ›

The studies revealed two major findings: adolescents were more likely to recall unhealthy food and celebrity influence was a common component of the advertisements. This review suggests that food and beverage companies use social media for marketing their products by targeting the adolescent population.

How do the media affect your decisions on food? ›

When researchers examined the data they found that study participants were more likely to eat significantly more junk food when they perceived their social media contacts approved of eating junk food.

What are 3 ways the media social media can negatively affect your health? ›

Research studies note the connection between use of social media and its undesirable outcomes that increase incidence of anxiety, stress, depression, body image concerns, and loneliness in teens and young adults (APA, 2022).

What is an example of media influencing health? ›

Technology such as television, computer and mobile use has decreased the amount of physical activity, according to a recent study. Researchers predict that the amount of physical activity levels will decrease and sedentary time will increase by 2020 and 2030 if we continue at this rate.

What are the 5 media effects? ›

These six are cognition, belief, attitude, affect, physiology, and behavior. All individual-level media effects studies examine how the media exert an influence on one or more of these six types.

How does social media negatively affect lifestyle choices? ›

Multiple studies have shown that unlimited use of social media causes stress, bad moods and negative mental health. Many people wake up in the morning and immediately check their Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter.

How has social media impacted our daily lives? ›

Social media makes it easier than ever before for strangers around the world to connect with each other through online communities. This has led to support groups that help people in various ways. Social media can be a positive influence on our lives by encouraging us to set goals and work towards achieving them.

What are the 5 main social factors which affect food choices? ›

Food Choices
  • Taste Preferences. Taste preferences often are cited as a primary motivator of individuals' food choices (Drewnowski, 1997; Drewnowski and Levine, 2003; Drewnowski et al., 1999). ...
  • Personal and Social Factors. ...
  • Employment Status. ...
  • Acculturation. ...
  • Access to Personal Transportation.

What are the 4 social influences on our food choices? ›

Social determinants such as culture, family, peers and meal patterns. Psychological determinants such as mood, stress and guilt. Attitudes, beliefs and knowledge about food.

What are 3 influences on people's food choices? ›

Biological determinants such as hunger, appetite, and taste. Economic determinants such as cost and income. Physical determinants such as access, education, skills and time. Social determinants such as class, culture, and social context.

How can mass media influence people's decisions? ›

The influence of mass media has an effect on many aspects of human life, which can include voting a certain way, individual views and beliefs, or skewing a person's knowledge of a specific topic due to being provided false information.

What are the negative effects of social media on body image? ›

Social media can negatively affect body image by over-exposing you to "idealized" body types. While posting selfies may help body image, trying to edit out perceived flaws can be harmful. To reduce harm on social media, unfollow accounts, find a healthy community, and take breaks.

How social media affects our mental health essay? ›

However, social networking sites have a negative effect on teens mental health as frequent use of these sites causes mental disorders such depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation. Although social media has enhanced our connectivity, it is also causing a decline in social and communication skills.

What are two ways the media can influence your health? ›

Exposure to media, especially among youth, may affect health behaviors such as substance use, sexual activity, and eating habits.

What are three negative effects of media? ›

Why limit media use?
  • Not enough sleep. Media use can interfere with sleep. ...
  • Obesity. ...
  • Delays in learning & social skills. ...
  • Negative effect on school performance. ...
  • Behavior problems. ...
  • Problematic internet use. ...
  • Risky behaviors. ...
  • Sexting, loss of privacy & predators.
20 Jul 2022

What physical health issues are caused by social media? ›

Research participants who used social media excessively were found to have higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a biological marker of chronic inflammation that predicts serious illnesses, such as diabetes, certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

What are the 10 types of use of media? ›

Modern media comes in many different formats, including print media (books, magazines, newspapers), television, movies, video games, music, cell phones, various kinds of software, and the Internet.

What are the positive and negative effects of media? ›

While it can provide a platform for your teenagers to express themselves, develop social skills, etc., it can also have some negative effects–instilling false messages, false beliefs, violent behavior, spending too much time in front of a screen may cause health and development issues.

What are the 3 types of media effects? ›

Lesson Summary
  • The direct effects theory, in which the media has direct effects and is responsible for society's ills.
  • The indirect effects theory, in which media exposure affects people in different ways.
  • The agenda-setting theory, in which the media determines what is important.
29 Oct 2021

What are the 5 biggest problems with social media? ›

Cons: Why is social media bad?
  • Online vs Reality. Social media itself is not the problem. ...
  • Increased usage. The more time spent on social media can lead to cyberbullying, social anxiety, depression, and exposure to content that is not age appropriate.
  • Social Media is addicting. ...
  • Fear of Missing Out. ...
  • Self-image issues.

Does social media decrease quality of life? ›

Health authorities have warned that excessive use of social media can negatively affect adolescent social, physical, and psychological health. However, scientific findings regarding associations between time spent on social media and adolescent health-related quality of life (HRQoL) are not consistent.

What are the 5 factors that impact negatively on lifestyle choices? ›

Lifestyle risk factors
  • Unhealthy diet. The foods you eat affect your health. ...
  • Not enough exercise. Being physically active is good for your heart and brain. ...
  • Unhealthy weight. ...
  • Smoking (tobacco misuse) ...
  • Too much alcohol. ...
  • Birth control and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) ...
  • Recreational drug use. ...
  • Stress.

What are the pros and cons of social media? ›

Pros & Cons of Social Media
ProsCons
Put yourself out there in a good wayPosting inappropriate statuses/pictures
Connect with students in other educational systemsMaking people feel bad about themselves
Make new friends/communicate or connect with old friends/familyCyberbullying
15 more rows

In what way can media influence people's thoughts and actions? ›

In the individual effect, media information about new norms may persuade individuals to accept them. In the social effect, the information creates common knowledge of a norm and enhances social coordination as individuals more readily accept the information if they believe others have also accepted it.

What are 12 factors that influence food choices? ›

Factors that Drive Food Choices
  • Taste, texture, and appearance. Individuals have a wide range of tastes which influence their food choices, leading some to dislike milk and others to hate raw vegetables. ...
  • Economics. ...
  • Early food experiences. ...
  • Habits. ...
  • Culture. ...
  • Geography. ...
  • Advertising. ...
  • Social factors.

What influences food choices of teenagers? ›

Taste, price and convenience are commonly noted factors influencing adolescents' food choices, and as they grow, their level of independence increases and spending more time with their peers means that social desirability and social norms about food become increasingly important factors in adolescent food choice.

How does social pressure affect food choices? ›

Through social reinforcement, for instance, peers may indirectly bolster the idea of the “ideal” thin body shape, thereby pressuring teens to skip meals or diet. Adolescents may also imitate the behaviors of their peers who practice unhealthy eating behaviors.

What are the 7 influences on food choices? ›

Some examples of these influences that contribute to an individual's food choices include individual factors, such as knowledge, personal taste preference, mood, hunger level, health status, special diet requirements, ethnicity, and personal income.

What is an example of social influence on food habits? ›

If we eat with someone who is eating a large amount then we are likely to model what they eat and consume more than we would eat if we were dining alone [3]. We are also likely to eat a large amount if we eat in a group rather than eating alone.

How do you influence people to eat healthy? ›

Be a consistently good role model for that person, talk to them about the value of eating nutritious foods and remember to be gentle but firm.
  1. Be A Role Model. ...
  2. Share Facts and Statistics. ...
  3. Stay Away From Severity. ...
  4. Allow For Indulgences.

Why should the skin of apples and pears not be removed when eaten? ›

Peels are packed with nutrients

In fact, a raw apple with skin contains up to 332% more vitamin K, 142% more vitamin A, 115% more vitamin C, 20% more calcium, and up to 19% more potassium than a peeled apple ( 1 , 2 ).

Are we eating better than in the past? ›

Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions. But although we are getting larger and heavier, our diet has become healthier over the last 100 years.

How eating habits affect your health give some reasons? ›

Adults who eat a healthy diet live longer and have a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Healthy eating can help people with chronic diseases manage these conditions and avoid complications.

How is social media changing human behavior? ›

The positive changes that social media has brought to human behavior include making people broad-minded to challenge stereotypes and develop mutual respect. It has made people hungry for expanding knowledge. It has also encouraged people to pursue the career they love, to take care of themselves, and learn new skills.

How does media affect the human mind? ›

Changes in Reward Pathways

This constant barrage of shallow rewards rewires your brain to want more of what caused that dopamine release, which leads to social media addiction. Studies show that the brain scans of heavy social media users look very similar to those addicted to drugs or gambling.

How does social media influence people's actions? ›

Social media use has also been associated with cyber bullying and cyber abuse by anonymous users online, which leads to problems of self-esteem, privacy ,etc. Most studies have shown that, social media's violent games result in increase in violent tendencies and behaviours in children.

How does social media affect your physical health positively? ›

Can Reduce Health Problems – Having a large group of “friends” online can have a contagion-like effect, which means the quality of life can improve when healthy physical and mental lifestyles are encouraged in online circles. For example, groups dedicated to helping one another quit smoking.

How does social media and technology affect our health status? ›

Social media and mobile devices may lead to psychological and physical issues, such as eyestrain and difficulty focusing on important tasks. They may also contribute to more serious health conditions, such as depression. The overuse of technology may have a more significant impact on developing children and teenagers.

How does social media affect students health? ›

Depression and Anxiety

To remain mentally healthy, students need to have a good amount of face-to-face interactions. It lessens stress and improves moods faster than most activities. Students that choose online communication over physical communication have higher chances of experiencing anxiety and depression.

What are 10 negative effects of social media? ›

What are the negative effects of social media on students? Some negative effects of social media on students are irregular sleep, eye strain, damaging body image, symptoms of anxiety and depression, isolation, cyberbullying, FOMO(Fear of missing out), JOMO(Joy of missing out), and more.

Does the media influence health behavior? ›

Academic studies generally believe that media use can influence the acquisition of health knowledge and individual health behaviors.

How does social media affect mental health positively? ›

Social media may provide individuals with a platform that overcomes barriers of distance and time, allowing them to connect and reconnect with others and thereby expand and strengthen their in-person networks and interactions.

What are some negative effects of social media check all that apply? ›

Many people experience a loss of privacy. Some people have fewer social relationships. Terrorists can find new recruits on the Internet. Some people have been harassed by cyberbullies.

How does social media affect mental health statistics? ›

Spending more than 3 hours on social media per day puts adolescents at a higher risk for mental health problems. 13% of kids ages 12-17 report depression and 32% report anxiety. 25% of 18 to 25-year-olds report mental illness. These age groups report high usage of social media.

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