LifestyleHow fitness influencers on Instagram impact health: New study reveals mixed effects

How fitness influencers on Instagram impact health: New study reveals mixed effects

Do fit influencers have an impact on mental health?
Do fit influencers have an impact on mental health?
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12:03 PM EDT, June 3, 2024

Social psychologists from New Zealand examined the impact of fitness accounts on Instagram on lifestyle and mental health. They obtained seemingly contradictory results.

Fitness influencers are one of the most popular categories of creators on social media. They share their methods for "ideal bodies" and "healthy lifestyles," promoting both physical activity and dietary strategies. They often sell products from these categories, such as workout plans, dietary catering, or supplements.

Is following fitness influencers beneficial for health?

The popularity of this type of Instagram account has led scientists to question the outcomes of following these creators for young adults. Does following fitness influencers provide benefits by inspiring engagement in a healthier lifestyle and positively affecting mental health? Or might it not translate to healthier habits and contribute to poorer mental health through "upward comparison" and unattainable body ideals?

A team of social psychologists from New Zealand posed these questions. They surveyed over a thousand individuals aged 18-35 from New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom. They checked if the participants were on Instagram and whether those who used the app followed fitness content creators. This data was compared with the respondents' activity levels and their eating habits, levels of anxiety, and overall well-being. The results of this analysis, published on cyberpsychology.eu, are exciting.

In some respects, those who follow fitness accounts on Instagram indeed engage more in physical activity. They spend 60% more time (2.5 hours) on intensive exercise weekly than Instagram users who do not follow such profiles (1.5 hours). Interestingly, compared to people who do not have Instagram at all (2 hours), the advantage for fans of fitness accounts was only 20%. The groups had no significant differences regarding the number of steps taken each day.

Another area where followers of fitness content differed from those who do not watch it on Instagram was consuming fruits and vegetables. The difference in the number of servings of fruits and vegetables consumed per week was 20% in favor of fitness account followers. The study did not show a significant difference in the consumption of ultra-processed food.

Does following fitness influencers worsen mood?

The most interesting results were found in psychological indicators. Those who follow fitness content on Instagram scored higher on measures of anxiety and overall well-being. Levels of anxiety increased with the reported time spent engaging in intensive exercise. How is this possible? Researchers suspect this is because these individuals are more sensitive and susceptible to influence. The measured anxiety included indicators of depression, anxiety, and negative mood.

In contrast, the higher overall well-being scores in the same group were explained by factors related to vitality, such as "I feel enthusiastic" or "I feel like I have a lot of energy." In summary, it was emphasized that the differences in psychological factors described were insignificant between the groups that follow and do not follow fitness accounts on Instagram.

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