- Celebrity social media posts are influential to consumers.
- Researchers looked at the nutritional quality of foods and beverages shown in celebrity social
media posts and found that most feature unhealthy foods and drinks.
- Psychologists and dietitians discuss how this may influence consumer food choices, especially for teens and young adults.
Actors, singers, and athletes with millions of social media followers often share snippets of their lives, including what they eat and drink. A recently published study in JAMA Network Open looked at the types of foods and beverages that are depicted on celebrity social media accounts.
“Celebrities sharing posts of their food absolutely impacts food choices for many of their followers,” says Courtney Bliss, MS, RDN, a pediatric dietitian with Feeding Bliss. “Many youth and young adults look to celebrities for guidance, instead of turning to experts in health and wellness. When they see food choices presented, there is an idea of ‘oh that’s what this awesome celebrity does and it must mean it’s safe and healthy to do’.”
About the Study
The study was a cross-sectional analysis of Instagram posts from 181 highly followed athletes, actors, and musicians. Researchers evaluated the images of foods and drinks in their posts and rated the health value of foods using the Nutrient Profile Index (NPI).
Nutrients that are considered in NPI ratings include sugar, sodium, calories, saturated fat, fiber, and protein. Foods are rated on a scale from zero (least nutritious) to 100 (most nutritious). This study used unhealthy cut-offs of 64 for foods and 70 for beverages.
The researchers found that 158 celebrity social media accounts, or about 87%, showcased
foods that were deemed less nutritious by their NPI scores. Sweet bakery products and alcohol-based drinks were the most common.
Surprisingly, only about 5% of the posts were sponsored by food or beverage companies. Of
course, this could also be an underestimate if celebrities do not properly disclose sponsored relationships, which remains a problem that the Federal Trade Commission is working on.
Celebrities Influence Food Choices
Celebrities are heavily followed and highly influential on social media. Their posts engage millions of young followers each day. They also are perceived as credible and trustworthy, even though they have no medical or nutrition training.
Sheila Forman, JD, PhD, CGP
— Sheila Forman, JD, PhD, CGP
“Celebrities are our version of royalty and as such have enormous influence over the choices their fans make,” says Sheila Forman, JD, PhD, CGP, a clinical psychologist and certified group psychotherapist. “Celebrities can often be thought of as experts even though what they are sharing is not within their ‘expertise’ and expert opinion is very influential. For this reason, celebrities’ actions can be influential.”
The researchers say that posting less nutritious foods and beverages can shape followers’ perceptions of what is normative to consume. But, not all healthcare professionals think that this is such a bad thing.
Morgyn Clair, MS, RDN
— Morgyn Clair, MS, RDN
“I would say the upside to normalizing eating ‘junk food’ in moderation is that it allows people to feel they are allowed to eat some treats once in a while without feeling guilty,” says Morgyn Clair, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and author at Fit Healthy Momma. “Allowing people to realize that celebrities are not perfect can help people reach for attainable goals.”
Of course, one must also remember that celebrities aren’t always depicting reality, and they may employ staff—from cooks to personal trainers to photographers—to depict the curated life that they want you to see.
“If the celebrity’s post about junk food or alcohol is consistent with an overall message of moderation, balance, and health, such a post can show people that junk food and alcohol can be part of a healthy lifestyle,” says Dr. Forman.
Should Celebrities Promote Healthier Foods?
The researchers note that improvements in the nutritional quality of celebrity social media posts may be an opportunity to change how consumers are influenced, making nutritious foods the norm.
Courtney Bliss, MS, RDN
— Courtney Bliss, MS, RDN
“If healthier foods are presented as part of a balanced eating pattern and without guilt or shame, I think it would just broaden the messaging,” says Bliss. “[These posts] could potentially help kids and young adults have a better relationship with food and make more rounded choices.”
Interestingly, the researchers also found that celebrity posts featuring healthier foods or beverages were associated with significantly fewer likes and comments from followers. This discovery may be the impetus for celebrities to give their audience what they demand—such as sweets and alcohol.
It is a perplexing dilemma. Celebrities are criticized when their diets are extremely rigid and healthy, so the alternative is normalizing them eating a piece of cake or drinking some wine. But, then they are criticized for being bad role models. There’s no easy answer.
“Posting about nutritious food can be beneficial, but we must keep in mind that celebrities are not nutrition experts and what works for them may not work for all,” says Dr. Forman.
What This Means For You
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