how social media shapes women’s health
Newswise – A new study led by researchers from the University of Sydney has found young women’s engagement with social media plays a major role in shaping how they think – and act – about their health.
The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Marketing Quarterly, studied 30 women between the ages of 18 and 35 during the 2021 COVID-19 lockdowns to understand the factors that influence them to respond to diet and exercise messages on social media. adopting media platforms Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
Lead author of the study, PhD candidate Clare Davies from the Discipline of Media and Communication, said the initial findings suggest that women are just as likely to accept health messages on social media – promoted by influencers – as from public health communicators.
“The women we spoke to were highly influenced to take up diet and exercise messages on social media if they felt a sense of ‘connection,’ or relatability, with the source of the message,” she said.
“Social media influencers embody this connection by fostering relationships with their audiences and sharing anecdotes about their own lives and behaviors. This was reinforced during the pandemic when many women turned online to seek connectivity and explore new ways to live a healthy life.”
Although much of the world emerged from COVID-19-induced lockdowns, Ms Davies said many of the women interviewed continued to engage in diet and exercise programs promoted by wellness influencers. become post-pandemic because of the sense of “friendship and community” they generated around them. shared health and lifestyle goals.
“Access to exclusive online communities, along with actual ‘meet and greets’ with the influencers, is a huge draw for women when deciding whether or not to use specific programs or diets,” she said.
Participants also said they were highly encouraged to use and maintain diet and exercise regimens if the influencer promoting them had similar life or health experiences to them, or even a similar body type.
“Women reported being drawn to social media influencers who shared intimate details of their lives and whose personal narratives they could relate to. This included experiencing a similar health problem to the influencer, such as endometriosis, or discussing things like their fertility and relationship challenges.
Similarly, the study found that exposure to personal testimonials from other women and ‘before and after’ footage in closed online communities was an important factor in shaping women’s understanding of and behavior around health.
One participant, who was part of a closed Facebook group associated with influencer Jessica Sepel (of JSHealth vitamin fame), reported being influenced to take a supplement for a condition she had “never haven’t experienced” due to the strength of other women’s private testimonials about the product.
Co-author of the study, Adjunct Professor Alana Mann from the Discipline of Media and Communication, said: “This study provides a snapshot of the influence of social media on women’s behaviour, particularly in relation to complex ideas about their health and wellbeing.”
“Our current findings, and the emerging body of research on social media and public health, show that health marketers and public health campaigns need to recognize that social media influencers and online communities do offer new opportunities for ways to communicate complex health messages to women.”
Ms Davies added: “This is a case of listening to the consumer. Women, and younger people in general, increasingly get their information from non-medical bodies, and this information affects their ability to make independent decisions in everyday life.”
“It is essential that those who design and implement public health campaigns work with this knowledge to ensure that people get the right information about health and how to live a healthy life.”