Social media creates a façade of health

The representation of fitness on social media creates false impressions for millenial users

Instagram’s explore page has become the holy grail of mindless browsing, allowing people to scroll through a never-ending supply of memes, media and models.

At ASU, few to no students go unexposed to social media, whether it be Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook, on which they are bombarded with questionable information.

Posts like these, featuring posed and retouched photos male and female models, promote the idea that if a user follows their advice or uses their product, they can achieve the same level of aesthetics or popularity. 

College-age students, who get a lot of use out of social media, should be wary of fitness claims made over social media, as they can promote bad habits and possibly induce a negative body image.

Floris Wardenaar, assistant professor at ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, explained that social media is not to be blindly trusted.

“The problem with social media is that success is not always based on the evidence that is behind the advice that these people give,” Wardenaar said. “If you’re popular or share a lot of common interests with the public, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are talking sense. If you don’t have this nutrition or wellness background, it’s difficult to distinguish between the good advice and bad advice.”

Nutritional advice given by people online who do not work in healthcare often times should not be perceived as general claims that work for everybody. 

Between the cost of food and convenience, college students are already hard pressed to make healthy eating choices. Compounded with the pressures of social media and the widespread mindset of what peak performance looks like, healthy eating becomes even harder to achieve. 

ASU students should take advantage of the resources offered by the health and wellness center, as well as the bountiful information sessions on nutrition.

“For lifestyle and also diet, it is not exclusive, but inclusive,” Wardenaar said. “There is a possibility that by excluding (certain things from their diet), they are also excluding the things that are actually good for them. They can sometimes exercise too much or end up with nutrient deficiencies.”

Many fitness models on social media also promote unrealistic ideals for body image. 

Just over 90 percent of college-aged women diet because they are unhappy with their body shape, and about 95 percent of individuals with eating disorders are between 12 and 25 years old, making college-aged individuals the most susceptible to poor health choices and body image issues.

The issue with models and body image affects men just as much as it does women, although this aspect of the problem receives far less publicity.

Agnes Bucko, a graduate research assistant at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health and ASU alumna, described the harmful nature of faulty fitness perceptions created by advertisements.

“When consumers buy a product or perform a workout routine they see on social media and don’t get the same results, this may create or strengthen their negative body image, or push them towards dangerous practices such as the use of appearance and performance-enhancing drugs,” Bucko said.

Past-year, non-medical usage of anabolic steroids nearly tripled from 1993 to 2001 for U.S. college students.

There does appear to be a positive trend in the online fitness community, however, some influencers are working to change the false perceptions of what “fit” looks like.

“There are some well-known fitness competitors that are documenting what they look like in their ‘off-season,’ or when they aren’t doing a competition,” Bucko said. “They acknowledge that they have to be on extreme diets and workout routines for a competition, and that it is unrealistic to look that way year-round. There are also a lot of social media profiles that focus on body positivity and making fitness about health and not looks.”

It is important to view social media with caution and not take everything at face value, doing appropriate research before making changes to a lifestyle or fitness regimen.


Reach the columnist at kalbal@asu.edu or follow @KarishmaAlbal on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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