The digital age has witnessed the meteoric rise of influencers who leverage their online presence and credibility to sway public opinion and behavior. We have talked about the way that healthcare companies are utilizing influencers. However, we haven’t focused as much about the impact that influencers have had on our lives.
The birth of social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok has enabled ordinary people to reach audiences of millions. They have cultivated trust and admiration that rivals and sometimes surpasses traditional celebrities. These influencers get as much as 72 percent of Gen Z and Millennials followers.
Amidst this phenomenon, a specific type has emerged—the health influencer. These individuals share health-related content, advice, and personal experiences, shaping how their followers approach their health and wellness.
Google remains the preferred choice for 36.4 percent of individuals seeking health-related information, with specialists being the go-to for 32.4 percent. However, social media platforms have emerged as the dominant source. Over 60% of people have expressed frustration with accessing healthcare information on Google, which means other platforms can help make things easier.
In practice, social media is the primary health information source for nearly half of the respondents, 47.6 percent to be exact. This data illustrates social media’s significant impact and reach in disseminating health-related content to the public.
Image taken from Sortlist
Understanding Health Influencers
Health influencers use their online platforms to share health-related advice, tips, and personal experiences. They leverage their influence to shape their followers’ health behaviors, attitudes, and knowledge. Their roles often include promoting healthy lifestyles, sharing new health products, and debunking or spreading health myths.
Health influencers typically specialize in specific areas:
- Fitness influencers: Fitness influencers typically share workout routines, fitness advice, and motivational content to inspire their followers to lead more active lifestyles.
- Nutrition influencers: These influencers focus on food, sharing recipes, diet tips, and information about different food groups and nutrients.
- Mental health influencers: These influencers focus on awareness, offering mental health tips and sharing personal experiences. They also provide resources for those struggling with mental health issues.
- Medical influencers: These influencers are often healthcare professionals who share medical knowledge, debunk health myths, and provide a professional perspective on health trends and news.
Health influencers use various platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. The reach of these influencers varies, with some reaching millions of followers globally.
The Positive Impact of Health Influencers
Here are some of the benefits health influencers offer:
Encouraging healthier lifestyles
Health influencers encourage their followers to lead healthier lifestyles. They often share exercise routines, diet plans, mental wellness practices, and preventive health measures. Using their platforms, they promote regular physical activity and balanced nutrition.
A fitness influencer might share workout videos and fitness challenges, encouraging followers to incorporate more physical activity into their daily routines. Similarly, nutrition influencers could share healthy recipes, debunk diet myths, and provide easy-to-understand information on the nutritional value of different foods.
These types of content raise awareness about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. They offer practical advice and inspiration to followers to make healthier life choices.
Spreading awareness about health issues
Health influencers educate the public about various health conditions. They use their platforms to share personal stories about living with specific conditions, like diabetes or heart disease, or partner with health organizations to spread awareness about less-known diseases.
These efforts help increase public knowledge and understanding of various health issues, leading to earlier detection, better management, and reduced stigma associated with the conditions.
Mental health awareness
Many health influencers have also used their platforms to shed light on mental health issues, a problem traditionally fraught with misunderstanding and stigma. These influencers share their experiences with mental health struggles and provide resources and strategies for managing them.
In a way, they promote a more open and accepting conversation about mental wellness. Their efforts can help followers feel less alone, destigmatize mental health issues, and motivate followers to seek help when needed.
Destigmatizing health issues
Besides mental health, influencers have used their platforms to break down the stigma associated with other topics often considered taboo or sensitive.
For instance, influencers might share educational content about sexual health. Others might share their experiences with chronic diseases, providing a more accurate and humanized perspective on these conditions.
Additionally, body-positive influencers combat societal beauty standards by celebrating diverse body types and promoting self-love. These efforts are especially important at this time when as much as 50 percent of people experience weight stigma. By promoting open dialogue, influencers can foster a more informed, accepting, and supportive online community for health.
The Potential Dangers of Health Influencers
While some health influencers do good, others may be doing more harm. Some influencers might unknowingly promote harmful health behaviors, like extreme dieting or over-exercising, which can have serious physical and mental health repercussions.
Not all influencers have health expertise, leading to the spread of misinformation. This includes promoting unfounded health advice, endorsing pseudoscientific health products, or undermining evidence-based health guidelines.
Some influencers’ polished, idealized portrayals of health and body image can create unrealistic expectations among followers. It can lead to body dissatisfaction and unhealthy comparison, which can have serious mental health impacts.
Digesting Health Information
Audiences must consume health information responsibly. They should verify the data from reliable sources and consult professionals before making significant health decisions based on influencer content.
At the other end of the spectrum are the platforms. Social media platforms should regulate health content more strictly, ensuring that health information shared is evidence-based and responsible. Platforms could implement fact-checking measures, promote transparency about influencer-brand partnerships, and provide more visibility for content from certified health professionals.
Health influencers play a complex role in shaping public health, carrying both positive impacts and potential harms. As health information becomes increasingly democratized and digitized, understanding this influence becomes more critical for health professionals and the general public. This understanding can inform strategies to maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of health influencers, creating a healthier digital landscape.