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MCGC Nutrition

Marie-Claire Gahel Calouche

How fake experts online are influencing your health

Don’t ask me for ‘sexy words’ when what I have is science!

Introduction

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation about marketing with a business expert. To whom this may concern, if you recognize yourself, please know I am thanking you for my opening paragraph.  

Here was my question: “How should I go about successfully implementing marketing in a such a competitive environment?”    

Expert answer: sexy sells!” She continued: “‘prevention of cardiovascular disease’ isn’t sexy.”  

So why do I need attractive words when all I have is science? 

She wasn’t advocating I lie or make false allegations. Not at all. Change is unappealing. To make it attractive, you need the ‘magic words’ that will convince readers that change is better than it looks.  

When I started as a dietitian, my focus was very different. My first concern was preventive care and treatment through nutrition care management within a clinical setting. As dietitians, we know that a diet isn’t as simple as writing a prescription. In truth, it’s a lifestyle that implies changing key behaviours and accepting that these changes will be slow but will last for a lifetime.   

Now, after a few years of introspection, I realize that it goes even deeper than that. It’s about the subconscious messages we received since childhood, it’s the impact of advertising, it’s confusion about foods that carry health halos, it’s health guru’s, celebrity endorsements and pseudo-experts. Its industries fueled by more resources (namely money) that permit their message to resonate louder, deterring from the accredited nutrition experts, the dietitians. 

What is a regulated health professional?

To make issues even more confusing, the public is confronted with a list of professional-looking titles such as a registered holistic nutritionist, certified nutritional practitioner, RONP, RNCP, ROHP, RHN, CNP. (1) However, all of these ‘titles’ are not the same as registered dietitians (RD).   

In Canada, the title of dietitian is protected like other medical professionals such as registered nurses and medical doctors. It is used to designate someone who received rigorous training from an accredited university, someone who adheres to a provincial regulatory body and has a valid practice license number. On the other hand, a nutritionist is a title that is not provincially regulated. As defined by Dietitians of Canada, it is ‘often used by those who have completed privately owned training programs that vary in length and rigor’  except for Alberta, Quebec and Nova Scotia where this title is protected by those provincial dietitian orders. (1) 

The Ugly Truth About Dieting

It is estimated that 80% of people who diet will gain back the weight after 5 years. (2) So, why do people buy into weight loss only to start over again with some new fad, fueling the very market that is failing them? Why not bet on science?  

Perhaps the answer lies in attractive marketing that sells ‘quick fixes’ rather than the slow but long-term approach of the dietitian. How appealing is this message? In 2018, the US weight loss industry hit a total value of 72 billion USD with a growth of 4.1% from the previous year and a forecasted growth of 2.3% until 2023.(3,7) 

In a survey by the association of UK Dietitians found that 58% of people trust nutrition advice from under-qualified professionals. (4) Beyond this, those sources will put out unhealthy messages around body image, solicit problematic behaviours around food, and promote negative sentiments about self-worth. Even worse, these sources may advocate to the vulnerable, providing them with methods that are not science-based and that are potentially dangerous to their health and wellbeing. (5,6) 

We need to change this.     

As dietitians, we need to advocate a different view of nutrition that empowers the public. This must come from us so that we may protect the public against the negative health impacts of diets and weight loss methods (including supplementation). 

Marketing plan
Laptop and a coffee
Bowl of fruits, blueberry,and raspberry
Iphone with social media
Social media touche screen
Research on laptop and phone

How does social media play a role?

It is important to note that research on this topic is new and we still do not have hard evidence of the impact of social media. For this reason, I will be using correlation studies.    

In a recent article from the Washington University School of Medicine, 405 adolescent and young adult females were followed who engaged in social media displaying body image content emphasizing a thin ideal on various social media platforms with a probable pro-eating disorder message. The result showed that Eighty-four percent of participants’ self-reported symptoms were consistent with a clinical or a subclinical form of an eating disorder. (5) 

Furthermore,  a research conducted by the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food at Monash University found that after a systematic search of six databases between 2005 and 2019, concluded that ‘Negative body image increases the risk of engaging in unhealthy dieting and disordered eating patterns.’ and that ‘Health professionals designing social media campaigns for young adults should consider image-related content, to not heighten body dissatisfaction.’ (6)  

Dietitians need to play a role in delivering key messages in line with implementing positive dietary change. The potential is that we nurture a healthier population by deterring from stigmas and social conformity to unattainable perceived norms. We are unique in our expertise and need to educate and model healthy dietary behaviour and this can be partly accomplished through social media content.  

How do we do this? By curating our media feeds with realistic images that are free of artificial modifications. No more sharing content that promotes unrealistic standards.   

As a dietitian, it’s more than just listening to your hunger and speaking about how the Mediterranean diet is the gold standard. We need to be an example of a ‘no diet’ philosophy and how to get to a healthy place with a healthy mentality. We need to advocate healthy patterns not only for the individual but for our social circles like friends or family. We also need to teach how to ignore negative feedback and recognize this process as a part of a healthy mindset around food.   

Let’s not point the finger, rather let’s be proactive!

There is nothing ‘attractive’ about what I have to say. I admit it. All I have is science and a heartfelt desire to convey that your health is worth more than any diet. 

At the end of the day, everyone wants to leave work, go home, sit down, laugh, relax and enjoy a meal that brings us back to the place where we grew up, or the soul food that will fill us up in more ways than one.  

The reason why the way we eat is so broken isn’t the fault of one person nor one industry, and pointing the finger isn’t the purpose of this article.  

Rather, it’s a call to action to every player in the game, especially the ones that fuel the demand: the public. If we work together, I believe we can achieve the balance so many have been searching. We can help people reach their goals, without making them pay by losing their peace of mind, their personal values and most importantly ensuring that health is a prime goal achieved through a balanced  and realistic approach.

To the food industries – include dietitians in product development and for the dissemination of credible nutrition information of products to consumers.  

To entrepreneurs – give your employees peace of mind and make this aspect of their lives easier. 

To the insurance companies – include dietitians in your insurance plans and encourage nutrition care management and prevention. 

To MDs – add dietitians to your practice to improve patient outcomes and adherence to healthy long-term lifestyle habits.  

To the public – choose the only recognized experts in nutrition – the dietitians!  

References:
  1. Dietitians of Canada, The difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist, retrieved on May 4th 2020 fromhttps://www.dietitians.ca/your-health/find-a-dietitian/difference-between-dietitian-and-nutritionist.aspx 
  2. Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2018;102(1):183‐197. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012  
  3. Business Wire(2019, February 25). The $72 Billion Weight Loss & Diet Control Market in the United States, 2019-2023 – Why Meal Replacements are Still Booming, but Not OTC Diet Pills – ResearchAndMarkets.com , Retrieved on May 4th 2020 from https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190225005455/en/72-Billion-Weight-Loss-Diet-Control-Market 
  4. British Dietetics Association,Survey finds that almost 60% of people trust nutrition advice from underqualified professionals, Retrieved on May 4th 2020 from  https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/survey-finds-that-almost-60-of-people-trust-nutrition-advice-from-underqualified-professionals.html 
  5. Eat Weight Disord. 2019 Nov 2. doi: 10.1007/s40519-019-00808-3. 
  6. Nutr Diet. 2020 Feb;77(1):19-40. doi: 10.1111/1747-0080.12581. Epub 2019 Oct 3.
  7. Market Reasearch (2019,March 6) Top 9 Things to Know About the Weight Loss Industry, Retrieved on May 4th 2020 from  https://blog.marketresearch.com/u.s.-weight-loss-industry-grows-to-72-billion 

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