WATCH: Social media's impact on unhealthy diet obsessions

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags myth busting Social media influencer marketing Sports nutrition

Social media is driving a whole host of nutrition myths and causing a growing number of young adults to become totally obsessed with their diets, health and nutrition experts have been warned.

Sport science and nutrition experts met for Sport Ireland Institute’s annual nutrition symposium in Dublin last week at which they discussed some of the big nutrition myths circulating social media.

Mike Gibney, a Professor of Food and Health at University College Dublin, presented a few of his key concerns.

Unhealthy obsession

He said he is very concerned that the proliferation of health and nutrition advice on social media has increased the number of young adults who have an unhealthy obsession with their diet and exercise.

“This is an area I’m worried about. It’s particularly apparent in young female professionals.

“Orthorexia is an unhealthy obsession with eating ‘pure’ foods. This leads to eating a very narrow range of foods and constant concern about what others are eating around you and getting concerned when there aren’t any pure or healthy foods around to eat.

“It’s strongly associated with obsessive physical activity so it may be that those people you see religiously and excessively working out are suffering with this."

He explained that this disorder is categorised as an EDNOS – eating disorder not otherwise specified – but said he’s ‘fairly certain’ it will enter a manual classified as a mental disorder.

He said he hoped that awareness of this disorder would grow as health and nutrition experts may need to become better at diagnosing this disorder and helping resolve their clients' issues. 

“These people probably need treatment or counselling to help them to reduce the stress in their lives caused by this obsession.”


He began by stating that superfoods are a ‘simple con’.

“People get very disappointed when they are told their superfoods are not super but it’s a big big business, in fact, according to Mordor Intelligence the global superfoods market is a 23 billion US dollar market.

“So the bottom line is, there will always be quacks and a market for snake oil doctors.”

Personalised nutrition

He added that he is concerned that the abilities of gene-based personalised nutrition has been 'grossly overstated'.

He said he felt it was wrong to lead people to believe if they know their genes they can solve or avoid all their health problems especially when it comes to obesity.

“The genes load the gun, the environment pulls the trigger. So you can have as many obesity leading genes as you like but if you are not in an obesogenic environment you won’t get fat.

“The genetics aspect of obesity is grossly over-stated. There are very rare incidents of obesity where there is a single gene defect that we can treat

“We are a long way away from personalising dietary treatments for obesity or for any of the very very complicated diseases.  

“There are simply too many genes involved for us, at the moment, to be able to give advice that we can stand over.”

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