Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Healthy Weight-Loss Plans and the Internet: YouTube[R] as a Source of Information for Individuals Seeking to Lose Weight

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Healthy Weight-Loss Plans and the Internet: YouTube[R] as a Source of Information for Individuals Seeking to Lose Weight

Article excerpt


According to Pew Research Center, eight out of 10 adult internet users (59% of the adult United States population) use the internet as a source of information on health-related issues, which makes seeking healthcare information the third most popular online activity in the United States. Specifically, 52 percent of internet users seek information on exercise or fitness, and 49 percent seek information on diet, nutrition, vitamins, or nutritional supplements. (1)

YouTube, a popular and successful website, has up to 1 billion active users every month, (2) and 73 percent of adult Americans are said to access YouTube regularly. (3) The use of YouTube as a source of healthcare-related information for various disease states has previously been studied. (4-7) In a recent study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, (7) researchers examined YouTube for videos directed toward patients with psoriasis, specifically examining the content available via a search for "psoriasis treatment." What the authors found was that the majority (nearly 80%) of the videos concerning the treatment of psoriasis were not from credible medical sources (i.e., most videos were posted by authors with no medical background). Only 7.1 percent of the videos on psoriasis treatment were posted by medical institutions or by verified physicians. (7)

For this issue of NHR, we examined YouTube for videos directed toward individuals interested in weight loss, specifically examining the content available using the search term "healthy weight loss plan."


Our initial search, which was first filtered by "relevance," resulted in approximately 18,800,000 posts. We narrowed our search to videos posted "this year," which resulted in approximately 5,120,000 video posts. From here, we restricted our search to the first 100 videos displayed in the list of results. We then excluded any video older than May 1, 2017, as well as those that were not in the English language. After excluding videos that did not meet our inclusion criteria (i.e., those that were posted May 1, 2017 or later and were in the English language), we were left with 32 videos for our analysis. We evaluated the 32 videos for the following characteristics: number of page views, thumbs up and down ratings, author profession/affiliation, the content of the video, if the authors provided scientific evidence for information in video, whether the authors promised results or made product claims, if the video was monetized by advertising, and if a product or service was being offered via the content of the video, the text under the author's name or profile, or via an affiliated website.

Authors. From our sample of 32 videos, there were 19 authors (i.e., some authors posted several videos within our sample). Only one of the 19 authors gave any indication of having a medical background ("certified as a nutritional therapist"), though we were unable to verify this claim. Two authors claimed to be "certified personal trainers," one claimed to be a "personal trainer" (did not use the word certified), and one claimed to be a "fitness trainer." Of the remaining 14 authors, one claimed to be a "health & a beauty blogger by profession," one simply claimed to be a "blogger," and the remaining 12 authors did not identify themselves by any qualifications or profession.

Content. Twenty-two of the videos described and provided recipes for either single meals or dishes or meal plans designed for weight loss (most included basic nutrition information [calories, fat, carbs, protein]), three described the benefits of and provided recipes for "detox" or intermittent fasting diets, five videos described the components of healthy living and/or a healthy weight loss plan (no recipes), and two videos provided lists of dos and don'ts of dieting (e.g. "5 foods you should avoid while dieting"). None of the videos provided scientific evidence nor acknowledged a medical institution for the information provided. …

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