There are pros and cons when it comes to turning to TikTok for health advice
TikTok’s popularity has been growing since the app was released in 2016. With over one billion active monthly users, it’s no surprise that the app has a wide range of diverse content creators.
TikTok is a video sharing app that allows users to create short creative and interesting video content that they can then share with their friends and followers on the app.
With the increase of the app’s usage, the popularity of “TikTok trends” increased as well. A TikTok trend occurs when a creator makes a popular video of them doing or buying something new or interesting and directly or indirectly influencing others to partake in the same behaviour.
An example is a popular user creating a dance to a song on the app and therefore influencing others to try to recreate the dance for themselves.
I think your brother and my boyfriend share the same feelings about quarantine 💁🏻♀️ #duet with @addisonre♬ Follow me if you use my sound and get lit – Anyanso Kalu
Although most of these trends can be harmless and may even promote healthy lifestyles (for example, dancing is considered a whole-body workout, according to WebMD) there are some risks of partaking in trends when the source of the information is unclear.
For example, in August 2020, a 15-year old girl died doing a dangerous TikTok trend called the “Benadryl challenge” in which users would take a dozen or more doses of the drug in order to “trip out” or hallucinate, according to an article by News 4.
Victor Ho, a fourth-year business technology management student at Ryerson said that a lot of the health trends he sees on TikTok are not verified but are promoted as if they were.
“A lot of these people who are promoting fitness and workout trends don’t have any professional fitness background,” said Ho. “People will hop on the bandwagon just for views and likes, not doing their own research into the pros or cons first.”
He said that although it is good that people are promoting healthy trends and lifestyle changes, it is important for people to do their own research first before they try anything new that could potentially hurt them in the long run.
“Do your own research first, go on trusted health sites or speak to your dietician before making any changes to your diet or workout (regime),” said Ho.
In 2020, 69 per cent of the app’s user base was 13 to 24-year olds, according to Hootsuite.
This means that millions of young, impressionable teens could be seeing this information produced by older creators. According to the Top 40 TikTok creators list by Business Insider in December 2020, more than half of the top 10 TikTok creators are over the age of 20. This may lead teens to believe that the information coming from these older creators is true due to the age difference and trustworthy factor of these creators saying these trends worked for them.
A popular trend called #WhatIEatInADay has over 5.8 billion views across all posted content. Libby Moser, a registered dietitian at The Renfrew Center of Chicago, told Delish that trends like these can contribute to disordered eating among young adults and teenagers.
“These unhealthy behaviors on TikTok being presented as ‘normal’ eating habits can be so dangerous,” she said. “Most are promoting depriving your body of energy and nutrients, which can lead to metabolic changes, slowed metabolism, the breakdown of your body’s organs and muscles, and other serious complications.”
Suzele Cobo-Balazs, a psychology student at York University and avid TikTok user, said that although some of these trends can be harmful to impressionable teens which people need to be aware of, there are many trends that are genuinely trying to help people live healthier lives.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff from licensed dermatologists about special techniques they use regarding skin care which has been really helpful for me, knowing that they are professionals and that they know what they’re talking about,” said Cobo-Balazs.
She said that TikTok has influenced her to lead a healthier lifestyle and that it can be a really good influence for those who have considered being healthier but haven’t had the motivation to do so.
“I’ve been trying out the Chloe Ting workout challenge recently. It’s a workout regime that’s gained a lot of popularity on TikTok. Chloe Ting, the instructor, posts videos on her website where people follow along with her exercise routine,” Cobo-Balazs said. “She also shares meals that she makes while never saying that you have to lose weight. She just gives strategies to live healthier, which I don’t see anything wrong with.”
She said that this trend and others like it promote a communal aspect as well as there are so many other people participating with similar goals in mind, to be happier and healthier.
Amran Bade, a third-year Ryerson nursing student, said that people are engaging in TikTok trends more now due to the pandemic.
“I think they are especially popular due to COVID-19; everyone is trying to stay safe and healthy and will do anything to achieve that,” said Bade, who has also participated in some alternative health trends that she has seen on TikTok.
“I detox my body sometimes and drink ginger lemon tea,” she said. “These are natural remedies, that have so many benefits to overall health.”
Bade said that she did not only get these alternative health methods from TikTok itself, but from her family traditions that have been passed through generations, she has also seen trends similar to these going around the app as well.
Cobo-Balazs said that when it comes to trends that include detoxes, vitamines, and other things that can affect your health in a negative way, it is important to be diligent and do extensive research before attempting them.
She said that it’s important for these popular influencers and content creators to be aware of what they are posting that can influence their younger followers into doing similar behaviours without realizing the implications.
She also said that especially with COVID-19 and people wanting to improve their health during the pandemic, it is important to not believe everything you see on the easily accessible app, even if it is popular.