A recent study suggests that TikTok videos related to nutrition and weight glorify weight loss among teenagers and young adults.
The study published in the PLOS Magazine examined 1,000 TikTok videos from ten popular nutrition, food, and weight-related hashtags. Each video had at least one billion views.
The study found that key themes of the videos included the glorification of weight loss and the positioning of food to achieve health and thinness. The authors say that such content may contribute to “disordered eating behaviors and body dissatisfaction” in young people.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 67% of American teenagers ages 13 to 17 say they ever use TikTok, with 16% of all teens saying they use it almost constantly.
A lack of expert voice
Most videos (64.6%) analyzed in the study were produced by females. Creators of high school and college age accounted for 11.1% and 42.4% of posts, respectively, while millennials created nearly one-third (28.2%) of videos.
The study found that 44% of all the videos coded in the research included content about weight loss, and 20.4% of all videos demonstrated a person’s weight transformation. Researchers say that many videos convey the message that “a person’s body size is indicative of their health and moral status.”
In one-fifth (21%) of the videos analyzed, TikTok content creators portrayed a positive body image. However, users often were positive about their body image because they had lost weight.
Nearly half of the videos (47%) using the hashtag “nutrition” provided some sort of nutrition information, such as advice on what foods to eat, mainly for weight loss. In many of those videos, users showed their weight transformation and shared “what they ate on their journey.” However, of all the videos, only 1.4% were created by registered dietitians.
“The many trends associated with weight loss omit lifestyle factors that play a role in weight and health, and leave viewers with the message that weight loss and thinness is achievable and desirable to all, potentially leading to unhealthy perceptions and behaviors surrounding food, weight and body image,” the authors conclude.
Eight in ten American girls aged 10 had been on a diet, according to the 2015 report from Common Sense Media. Authors of the report suggest that media might play a role in raising unrealistic expectations, as most (87%) of female characters ages 10–17 on the most popular kids’ TV shows are below average in weight.
In the 2019 online survey of the UK’s teenagers aged 13 to 19, 40% of respondents said images on social media had caused them to worry about their body image. The Mental Health Foundation, which conducted the survey, emphasized the need for commitment from social media companies to play a key role in promoting body kindness.
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