Sorting the healthy diet signal from the social media expert noise: Preliminary evidence from the healthy diet discourse on twitter
T. Lynn; P. Rosati; G. L. Santos; P. T. Endo
Year of publication
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Over 2.8 million people die each year from being overweight or obese, a largely preventable disease. Social media has fundamentally changed the way we communicate, collaborate, consume, and create content. The ease with which content can be shared has resulted in a rapid increase in the number of individuals or organisations that seek to influence opinion and the volume of content that they generate. The nutrition and diet domain is not immune to this phenomenon. Unfortunately, from a public health perspective, many of these ‘influencers’ may be poorly qualified in order to provide nutritional or dietary guidance, and advice given may be without accepted scientific evidence and contrary to public health policy. In this preliminary study, we analyse the ‘healthy diet’ discourse on Twitter. While using a multi-component analytical approach, we analyse more than 1.2 million English language tweets over a 16-month period in order to identify and characterise the influential actors and discover topics of interest in the discourse. Our analysis suggests that the discourse is dominated by non-health professionals. There is widespread use of bots that pollute the discourse and seek to create a false equivalence on the efficacy of a particular nutritional strategy or diet. Topic modelling suggests a significant focus on diet, nutrition, exercise, weight, disease, and quality of life. Public health policy makers and professional nutritionists need to consider what interventions can be taken in order to counteract the influence of non-professional and bad actors on social media.