Dr. Social Media? Brits Choose Their Screens Over the GP Practice

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In a world where a double-tap can signify approval and a scroll can reveal a universe of wisdom, it's no wonder that Brits are turning to social media for health advice. But is all that glitters on your feed truly golden?

From mental health support to personal fitness tips, platforms like Instagram and YouTube have become go-to resources for millions looking to take charge of their wellbeing.

To further explore this trend, we conducted a survey of 1000 individuals to identify the most sought-after health topics on social media, preferred platforms for seeking health advice, differences in health advice seeking patterns based on generation, and variations across gender and regions.

The results shed light on the changing trends in healthcare and the growing role of social media as a source of information and support.

One in three Brits turn to social media for health advice

british people rely on social media for health advice

With every scroll, we're bombarded by a bunch of health "experts," from the wellness influencer sipping kale smoothies to the fitness fanatic swearing by the latest high-intensity workout. But with every influencer and their dog (literally) dishing out tips, how do we sift through the noise?

Our survey reveals that a significant one third (16,5 million) of the UK population relies on these platforms for insights into their well-being, a testament to the digital age's influence on our health decisions.

From trying new diets to incorporating different exercise routines, it's clear that these digital influencers hold a lot of sway over our daily choices.

Yet, as our feeds fill with an array of health tips, discerning credible information from well-intentioned but potentially misguided advice becomes a challenge. Especially, when we consider that half of Britons admit they're uncertain if the health content creators they follow are actually qualified.

are creators qualified for advice?

“Unfortunately, we’re in an era where anyone can present themselves as an expert, it's more important than ever to develop digital literacy skills, particularly in evaluating the reliability of health related information that is being presented to you.” says Dr. Lawrence Cunningham from the UK Care Guide.

When it comes to health advice, especially concerning our physical or mental well-being, it's essential to take a step back and consider the bigger picture before diving into recommendations found on the internet.

Dr. Lawrence Cunningham also agrees “One of the first red flags for misguided health advice on social media is the lack of credible sources or references to recognised studies, especially where specific claims are being made about the effectiveness of any treatments. From what I've observed, health advice that promises quick fixes, miracle cures, or uses fearmongering to promote specific products or lifestyles often needs a solid scientific foundation.”

Hashtag healthy lifestyle: Instagram crowned as the UK’s favourite platform for health tips

Instagram has become more than just a place for scrolling through photos; in the UK, 35% of people are turning to it for quick, digestible health advice. From bite sized nutrition tips to quick stress relief strategies, it's clear we're after health insights that get straight to the point.

YouTube is also a popular choice, with 31% looking for visually engaging step-by-step fitness tutorials and meditation sessions that easily fit into daily life. Facebook (28%), TikTok (21%), and Reddit (13%) each offer unique angles on wellness, catering to diverse interests.

These platforms have evolved well beyond their entertainment roots to become key resources for mental health support. A growing number of users are turning into these platforms not just for fun but for vital support in managing anxiety and pursuing physical health goals.

mental health on social media

Gen Zers are the most health conscious generation online

Gen Z and social media

It's no secret that Gen Z is glued to their screens, but what are they really doing there? Surprisingly, they are not just learning the latest TikTok dance, but also seeking mental health support.

In fact, the use of social media for health information is primarily done by younger generations. More than half (3,4 million) of Gen Zers turn to social media platforms for guidance on their wellbeing.

Anxiety emerges as a significant health concern among this demographic, with approximately 50% of Gen Zers and Millennials expressing related worries and seeking support online.

There appears to be a noticeable divergence in the health topics that various generations seek advice on. For Gen Z, mental health (18%) and a combination of mental and physical health (27%) are the primary areas where they seek guidance.

In contrast, Gen X focuses more on a combination of mental and physical health (14%) and physical health alone (11%) when seeking health advice. This trend suggests a shift in health priorities as individuals progress through different life stages and age brackets.

It's pretty clear that the older we get, the more we're tuning into how to keep our bodies running smoothly, maybe letting the mental health chats take a bit of a backseat.

Have you ever had to stop your grandma from buying a lifetime supply of a product that she saw on YouTube just because that brand will gift them with, let’s say, a supposedly miraculous cream if they do so? Well, it doesn’t come as a surprise. This generation may feel less at ease with technology compared to younger age groups, making them more vulnerable to misinformation on social media.

 Learning from their mistakes, they tend to approach online information with more scrutiny and is why baby Boomers are prone to be the most cautious as 82% choose not to take health advice from social media.

Females are twice as likely as men to seek health advice from social media

women on social media seeking heath advice

It appears that females (40%) are more inclined to seek health advice from social media than males (25%). But this could be due to females having heightened concern for health compared to men.

Insights from recent UK studies highlight a significant gender gap in health related anxieties, with women reporting double the rates of extreme worry compared to men.

This increased level of concern could be driving more women to seek out health information and advice on digital platforms.

“This happens more frequently than we think. In my patients, I see a clear tendency of women being more likely to come seeking general health advice, while males normally have been advised to come by their partners or mothers. Furthermore, there has been evidence and research into this, and the common theme in these findings is that 'women reported that they would visit a family physician in response to both physical and mental health concerns to a greater extent than did men*” explains Dr. Hana Patel, NHS GP and GP Medico-Legal Expert Witness.

When it comes to platform preferences, there also seems to be a gap. While females prefer to take health advice from Instagram (40%) men turn into video content for their online wellbeing queries and prioritise YouTube (40%).

As for the topics of interest, the divergence continues. Women show a strong focus on mental health, particularly in areas such as anxiety (48%), as well as wellbeing, self care, and mindfulness (46%). Men, however, place a higher priority on physical health, with personal fitness and sports (37%), and workouts (30%) taking the forefront of their health concerns.

Wales leads in trusting social media for health insights

The UK's engagement with social media for health advice paints a diverse picture across its regions. Wales stands out, with 44% of its population looking to platforms like Instagram and Facebook for health tips. Close behind are London and Scotland, where 39% and 37% of the people, respectively, dive into online health content.

Contrastingly, the Midlands shows more restraint, with only 29% of its population seeking health advice on social media, marking it as the most cautious region. The East and South regions exhibit a slightly higher engagement rate at 31%.

Interestingly, when it comes to following advice from content creators, regardless of their qualifications in health, the Midlands and London emerge as the regions most willing to take the leap, with almost 60% of people recognising not being aware of the qualifications of the content creators they follow.

A dive into alternative medicine and CBD

Gone are the days when traditional medicine held the monopoly on our wellbeing. Brits are now also peeking into alternative medicine (9%) and CBD (8%) on social media.

Millennials and Gen X are particularly keen on CBD advice, indicating a growing curiosity about unconventional health solutions.

“Each generation is seemingly becoming much more health conscious than the previous. This is probably tied to the increased access to information that younger generations have been exposed to. A better understanding of the dangers of certain products/drugs, coupled with an increased openness to try alternative and unconventional remedies is really helping to drive the health and wellness sector” adds Paul Holmes, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager at Naturecan.

So, what does this all mean? It's clear that social media has become a significant health advisor, for better or worse. While these platforms can bring a wealth of knowledge right to our fingertips, the qualifications of those dishing out advice remain a question mark.

But why do many of us turn to these platforms for health advice? The answer lies in the convenience and accessibility that social media offers.

why do brits take advice from social media

With just one tap, we can access a lot of information about any health concern we may have – from symptoms to treatments – without even leaving our homes.

What’s more, with the rise of personalisation algorithms, social media now tailors our content based on our interests and searches. This means that users are more likely to see posts related to their specific health concerns or lifestyle choices, making it easier for them to find relevant information.

However, this ease and convenience come at a cost. The lack of regulation on social media allows anyone with an internet connection to share their opinions as if they were experts. This can be dangerous when it comes to sensitive topics such as mental health or serious illnesses where misinformation could have severe consequences.

We need to be mindful and approach health tips with a critical eye and consider professional guidance for serious concerns.

Checking credentials, looking at multiple sources and consulting healthcare professionals should all be part of the process before incorporating anything new into your wellbeing routine.

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