Health and wellness influencers have negative impact on mental health

Published 10th Jun 2024 by Erin Leybourne

Followers of wellness influencers have shown higher uptake of exercise and fruit and vegetable intake, but also lower mental health, in a recent study.

The study, published in the Journal of Psychological Research on Cyberspace, surveyed 1,022 young adults (aged 18–25) across the UK, United States, and New Zealand on their lifestyle habits, including measures of social media usage, dietary and exercise habits, and mental health.

Impact of influencers on diet and exercise

For dietary and exercise behaviour, the study looked specifically at vigorous exercise and fruit and vegetable intake.
People who followed health influencers were shown to exercise more vigorously than those who didn’t and ate more fruits and vegetables.

To understand the mentality of the group, the survey looked at overall wellbeing, as well as signs of distress.

Although followers of health and wellness influencers were shown to have better overall wellbeing, they also exhibited higher levels of distress and low mood, in comparison to non-followers.

This could be because the wellbeing index included aspects related to physical vitality (e.g. “energetic”, and “enthusiastic”), which could be disproportionately higher among healthy individuals.

The finding on distress is consistent with previous research on the negative effects of following health influencers and could have several explanations, including upward social comparison.

The study also compared people who followed exercise/fitness influencers to those who followed food/diet influencers.

One key difference was that following food/diet influencers was significantly linked to higher distress levels, while following exercise/fitness influencers was not as notably related.

There appeared to be a general trend that among health influencer followers, those who engaged in more intense health behaviours evidenced more distress.

It could be explained that followers of health and fitness influencers may be aware of the positive benefits of exercise and use it to protect against pre-existing depressive symptoms and follow influencers to help maintain positive behaviours.

It is also possible that those who follow health influencers show greater levels of compulsive exercise behaviours that increase distress.

The research concluded that although following health and wellness influencers may help with physical health, it may not help with happiness and mood. Further research may be needed before recommending influencers as a healthy way to manage behaviour.


Erin Leybourne

Erin Leybourne

Published 10th Jun 2024

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