LCHF, 5:2, GI, Montignac, fasting or Stone Age food? The list of diets gets longer every year. What do you choose if you want to go on a diet, and where do you get advice and support from? Reader Helena Sandberg has worked with researchers at Uppsala University to review the advice in the blogosphere on fruit and vegetables. Who is responsible for the blogs and what are their aims?
Blogs about health and lifestyle have contributed to a blooming social network. Starting a blog is easy. It is free and there is often a business model behind it with advertising that supports the commercial world linking producers and consumers. Today, this sub-culture has a lot of power over our choices concerning health and lifestyle.
Who writes food blogs?
“Who is it who runs a blog and gives you advice on what fruit and vegetables to eat?” asks Helena Sandberg. “Advice that is supposed to give you a wholesome lifestyle and a healthier body? We have identified four ideal types: the Exhibitionist, the Persuader, the Authority and the Intermediary.”
The Exhibitionist influences his or her followers’ eating habits passively and possibly unconsciously by describing his or her own everyday experiences. The Exhibitionist is the most common type of blogger. The Persuader also uses his or her own experiences of preparing and eating fruit and vegetables, but actively and intentionally tries to persuade readers of the path they should choose. The Authority acts as an opinion-former, but uses the strategy of sharing others’ experiences and points of view as arguments for different choices. The Intermediary is the least common in the analysed material. They can best be described as a kind of neutral observer who presents recipes, for example, without comments or arguments on what is good or bad for you with regard to fruit and vegetables.
“However, it is important to see through the blog culture to the private initiatives that are behind it. There is a wealth of advice and instructions, but no medical responsibility. The individual bears a lot of responsibility for critically assessing the content of blogs, and people’s abilities in this area vary. We are entering dangerous territory when a concerned parent whose child suffers from gluten intolerance searches for solutions to the problem online. In the maze of dietary and nutritional advice, it is easy to get lost. Who can be trusted?”, says Helena Sandberg.
Playing the game
The role of society is to create the conditions for everyone to enjoy good health. At the same time, we have a growing focus on an ideal appearance and body shape, as expressed in advertising. Behind the advertising is the industry, busy pointing out individuals’ shortcomings and suggesting solutions to the problems. In the blog culture, there is room for all sorts of opinions on diets and eating. All types of diet are supported by bloggers and it is easy for individuals to live in their own bubble, without actually knowing what is good or bad for them, or what may even be harmful.
Lack of facts
“The thing I question is the lack of dieticians in the public debate. They really need to be more visible and respond to errors, questions and pure nonsense on the internet. Unfortunately, there are relatively few professional dieticians in Sweden and they need more knowledge of how to enter the debate in the media and online”, says Helena Sandberg.
Health communication is growing with the advent of social media. We display pictures of what we eat and how we cook on Instagram and Facebook, and are eager to show off our class markers and taste markers. But should blogs just be seen as inspiration and incentives for how we can live? One question that Helena Sandberg has encountered is whether this abundance of blogs and other social media can lead to eating disorders.
“By creating exposure on social media, many people are looking for affirmation. ‘See me! Hear me!’ We often publish photographs, and the aim of these is to show distorted images of our daily lives or only the cream of our lives. An undesired consequence can be that people develop low self-confidence and feel like a failure when they see how other people live. Getting information from the internet whilst questioning it and thinking critically must be a key part of the whole digital culture”, says Helena Sandberg.
Text: Bodil Malmström
Photo: Catrin Jacobsson
The study was one of four that were carried out within the context of a thesis and collaborative project. Besides Helena Sandberg, the following participated in the study: Anna-Mari Simunaniemi (at the time a doctoral student, now PhD) and senior colleagues Margareta Nydahl and Agneta Andersson from the Department of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics at Uppsala University. To read more about the project, please see the thesis: Simunaniemi, Anna-Mari (2011) Consuming and Communicating Fruit and Vegetables: A Nationwide Food Survey and Analysis of Blogs among Swedish Adults.