- Almost 90% of social media influencers are sharing inaccurate health information, according to a new study.
- Researchers examined nine of the UK's biggest influencers in the health world and found that most are presenting opinion as fact.
- Experts say this is "potentially harmful" because of the reach of influencers.
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People who want to lose weight have been warned to stay away from social media influencers who claim to have the ultimate diet fix, the researchers say.
A study by a team at the University of Glasgow found that only one out of nine major British bloggers who make weight management claims really provided accurate and reliable information.
Health researchers studied the country's most popular influencers, based on those who had more than 80,000 followers on at least one social media site, checking on at least two sites like Twitter and who had an active weight management blog.
Lead author Christina Sabbagh said: "We found that most blogs can not be considered a reliable source of information about weight control, as they often present opinion as a fact and do not meet the UK's nutritional criteria.
"This is potentially damaging because these blogs reach such a wide audience."
Although social media stars were not cited in the study, blogs of nine major influencers published between May and June 2018 were analyzed and scored on 12 criteria to demonstrate credibility.
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The university team examined whether the health and diet claims made by the influencers were transparent, reliable, nutritionally sound, and included evidence-based references. They also looked at the role of bias in what was put online.
Influencers were considered to have "passed" the test if they met 70% or more of the criteria. The researchers also examined the last 10 recipes of each blog's meals for energy content, carbohydrates, protein, fat, saturated fat, fiber, sugar and salt content.
The findings – presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow – showed that most bloggers failed in key areas.
Five of them presented opinion as fact or did not provide evidence-based references for nutritional claims. Five failed to provide a warning, and when meals were examined against Public Health England's calorie and traffic goal criteria, no blogger met those criteria.
Of blogs based on counseling, only one by one registered nutritionist with a diploma passed in general with 75%. The lowest adhesion, 25%, was of an influencer without nutritional qualifications.
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The popularity and impact of social media in the context of the obesity epidemic suggests that all influencers must meet criteria that are scientifically accepted or medically justified for providing weight management advice online. "
Tam Fry, president of the National Obesity Forum, said: "This study adds to the evidence of the destructive power of social media. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can take to the ether, post whatever they want and be believed by their followers.
"Particularly unfortunate is that genius is now firmly out of the bottle and getting these bloggers to adapt to the standards, though desirable, will be almost impossible.
"Bloggers will defend their right to freedom of expression to the fullest, but publishing advice on junk mail is indefensible."