Australians the most gullible when it comes to dodgy TikTok health advice

Australians are very gullible when it comes to online health advice.

Australians are very gullible when it comes to online health advice. Photo: Getty

Australians are leading the world in trusting TikTok as a reliable source of diet and wellness advice, according to a survey.

This comes after, in August, The New Daily published an eye-popping report about weird TikTok “health” trends that are more likely to make you sick.

We weren’t alone in making this point.

As I wrote at the time, “the hottest health trend at the moment – at least for health writers – is debunking the wild, crazy and often dangerous claims made on TikTok”.

How gratifying it would be to reveal that our message got through. Cheers to young women waking up to the foolishness of eating carrots as a means of regulating their periods. Or sticking a clove of garlic in each nostril to unblock one’s sinuses. How wonderful that they’ve turned to bona fide experts for advice.

The latest study was commissioned by popular food and nutrition app MyFitnessPal – in partnership with researchers from Dublin City University Business School.

The survey

Its first part was a survey of who most trusted TikTok’s unregulated, and sometimes unhinged, “experts”.

The researchers found that nine out of 10 Australians have taken nutrition advice from the social media platform more than once.

Overall, two in five Australians (42 per cent) are “trusting the social media platform for nutrition and wellness advice”.

This compares to 39 per cent of people in the UK, 35 per cent in the US, and 25 per cent in Canada.

'Viral constipation hack' debunked

Source: TikTok/Food Science Babe

Most popular trends

Among Australians who put their trust in TikTok, the most popular trends are:

  • The raw carrot salad for “rebalancing hormones”, 26 per cent. (Not really a thing.)
  • Detoxes for weight loss, 25 per cent. (Your body cleans itself.)
  • Foods that burn stomach fat, 21 per cent. (There is no magic fat burner.)
  • Liquid cleanse, 15 per cent. (Some detox diets may pose the risk of overdosing on supplements, laxatives, diuretics, and even water.)
  • And lettuce water to help you fall asleep,15 per cent. (Nah.)

Researchers from Dublin City University analysed more than 67,000 videos using artificial intelligence to compare them against public health and nutrition guidelines.

In other words, masses of TikTok advice was tested for accuracy.

They concluded that “a meagre 2.1 per cent of the analysed nutrition content was accurate when compared to these guidelines”.

What the researcher says

“With more people turning to social media for health and wellness advice, it’s critical that we all improve our digital health literacy,” Dr Theo Lynn, DCU’s professor of digital business, said.

“This involves being aware of the experience, expertise, authority and trustworthiness of the source.”

He said it was important “to understand that these viral TikTok trends lack the rigour of controlled experiments and evidence-based scientific consensus”.

Therefore, he said, “they should not be trusted as a reliable source of information”.

Popular TikTok advice – often more like vigorous advocacy – includes adopting the “carnivore diet” for weight loss.

This involves eating meat, chicken, fish, cheeses and other animal products such as lard. This is a diet that may have short-term benefits in terms of weight loss – but is also high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

On the other hand, it’s short on certain micronutrients the body needs to function optimally.

Worse, with no vegetables or plant-based products consumed, there is not a jot of fibre.

Just this week, an international review led by Monash University scientists, demonstrated “the pivotal role of dietary fibre in managing hypertension and reducing cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk”.

Most Australians don’t eat enough fibre as it is. And yet, a high-fibre diet can help manage weight, because it promotes feelings of fullness.

It also lowers cholesterol and helps control blood sugar levels. In other words, fibre helps counter the negative aspects of eating animals.

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