The dangers of online health tips

People need to be aware that internet advice might promise solutions but lead to harm

Dr Shefali Verma-Johnson has warned of bogus health tips available on social media. Victor Besa for The National
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High obesity rates mean many people are desperately looking for easy solutions to lose weight and lead healthier lives, often searching via websites or social media. Unfortunately some of those who seek answers in this way fall prey to unqualified and unscrupulous opportunists giving bogus health advice in search of profits. Many people are unaware that some of the advice is not only unhelpful but can also be downright dangerous to one’s health.

As The National reported yesterday, doctors says that one downside of those so-called "nutrition experts" is that by giving free online advice they bypass important safeguards, such as ensuring each patient is subject to a detailed medical history check. For example, some of them might promote the use of supplements to lose weight, such as fat burners, which have stimulants in them that aren't suitable for everyone.

According to licensed nutritionist Kay Vosloo-Bodanza, many young people tend to trust what they read on social media, particularly when the source has large numbers of followers. The tips offered can create a false image of what healthy living is actually all about, particularly when these so-called experts enforce body ideals by including pictures of models in their posts.

However, this seems to be part of a larger issue. There are many unqualified people using social media to promote and sell uncertified or potentially harmful products, such as weight-loss pills and other products that are either banned or require a prescription from a doctor because of the potential adverse effects. Others promote fringe and unproven methods such as homeopathy that do not stand up to scientific scrutiny.

People need to be aware of the right health choices and be careful when obtaining information on social media. The ideal solution for everyone is to assess the poster’s qualifications rather than their number of followers, so that their attempt to live healthier is based on science and not superstition.