Doctors urge caution as more Americans turn to social media for health advice

Posted at 5:58 AM, Mar 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-02 07:02:59-05

(WXYZ) — We've all been there before. We don't feel quite right and turn to the internet for a little advice.

A recent study by CharityRX found that 65% of Americans seek out health advice from Google. Others turn to YouTube or social media platforms like TikTok or Instagram for guidance.

Amber Battishill is a registered yoga and mindfulness teacher with a strong social media presence where she shares info on parenting, recipes and health. She shares her information at Mommy Gone Healthy.

“Today I am sharing a mindfulness and breathing exercise and I love to use this one with my kids," she said in a recent video.

A growing number of Americans are turning to social media influencers like Amber for health information, most frequently for help with anxiety, weight loss and depression.

A recent survey of 2,000 adults by CharityRx says 1 in 5 Americans consult TikTok for health advice before their doctor. 33% turn to YouTube and 37% go to influencers.

"I get it all the time. And especially since COVID," Dr. Asha Shajahan, a family physician at Corewell Grosse Pointe, said.

She says online health information can be useful but you have to check the source. While 55% of Americans say they look for an influencer with medical certification, 26% say they look for relatability. Shajahan says credentials are key.

if they don't have a health background, "a training background or a nutrition background or whatever the information is that you're looking for, I would really take it with a grain of salt."

She also said to shy away from students who may be well-meaning but only have limited training. And remember, online advice often comes in short clips – 30 seconds or a minute and does not take into account your medical history.

"That person doesn't know your personal family history, the medications you're on, the allergies you have. And so the advice is kind of loose advice that's given online," she said.

Shajahan and Amber say you should take that online advice and your concerns to your doctor to come up with your personalized plan.

As an influencer and a consumer of online information herself, Amber says it’s important to know what works for you and to toss out advice that doesn’t.

"Things feel different in every single person, what might to me, may not feel good to you. So take the aspects of it that you can integrate into your life," she said.

It's also important to be skeptical of influencers pushing a one size fits all approach and products with extravagant claims.

"Who is telling you this? Where are they getting their information from? And you do need to be mindful that there may be an intention behind it," Amber added.

Just because someone is working in partnership with a brand or a product doesn’t mean the information is bad.     

Amber says she works with partner companies, but she says she’s careful about which partners she works with and is open about the partnership so her followers can have the complete picture.

She also says the influencers she knows are genuinely trying to spread the best information they can, but ultimately it’s up to us the consumer to combine health literacy and social media literacy to sort through all of the advice out there.