Dr. Tracy Bennett
Dr. Tracy Bennett
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At one time or another, many of us will think about becoming vegetarian. Cutting out meat, especially red meat, has environmental and nutritional benefits that has the average person considering changing their eating habits. “Going vegan,” where anything coming from an animal is removed from one’s diet, is seen as the ultimate step in curbing wasteful eating and improving health. Making the change to eat vegan can be hard. Young people look to social media, especially Instagram, for inspiration and advice on the best ways to lead a vegan lifestyle. Influencers are proposing diets that impose such high standards and strict regimens, the influencers themselves are unable to sustain them. These influencers have such a large reach, followers often inaccurately perceive them as experts with true credibility. Should we trust Instagram influencers with dietary advice?

#Vegan

A casual Instagram search of #vegan brings up 77,937,967 posts.[1] Vegan images boast recipes meant to look and taste like delicious, non-vegan dishes like pizza, cupcakes, and brownies. This wide array of beautifully photographed options makes veganism seem desirable. However, with so many niche recipes, it can be overwhelming and confusing when selecting who really knows their stuff.

Afterall, veganism isn’t just a nutrition plan for most influencers, it appears to be a lifestyle. Doting followers scrutinize and memorize each carefully crafted post, making an effort to share the vegan identity. However, even the most popular influencers are proving that pure veganism is hard to maintain long-term.

Another One Bites the Dust

Influencers are increasingly coming under scrutiny for straying from the very vegan ideals that they’ve branded their image around. For instance, one notable vegan influencer recently lost all credibility and popularity after abandoning a dangerous “water only” diet that lasted a whopping 35 days.[2]

Another popular vegan blogger received an outpouring of online hate after a video showed her eating fish.[3] Her supporters quickly turned against, despite her pleas that she needed to quit being completely vegan to restore her health. In the world of vegan bloggers, there is no room for cheating and only the most committed survive.

Where are the experts?

These influencers failed, not because being vegan is impossible, but because their fad diets were not sustainable. There’s significant danger following diets created by somebody without expert nutritional training. Only a licensed professional can give accurate health advice when it comes to nutrition and what to eat.

As vegan influencers cultivate more and more followers, the risks become increasingly clear. Nutritionists are seeing more and more cases of malnourished teens due to unsafe vegan eating practices.[3] Where is influencer credibility? There often isn’t any. The Internet is a buyer-beware digital marketplace. Teaching kids and teens how to assess expert credibility and defend themselves against unfair marketing techniques is crucial to good judgement and healthy eating choices. To help you teach your kids how to identify online marketing techniques, Dr. Bennett created a quick-and-easy supplement for your Connected Family Screen Agreement aptly named How to Spot Marketing Red Flag Supplement. Kids and teens are particularly vulnerable online. Education is a key element to building resilience.

Instagram: The Platform Your Kids Trust

Teens are programmed to intensely focus on identifying and building their tribe. Looking to friends for uniquely identifying features, like dress, music, and slang, is a vital part of growing up. Identification with popular food practices is often overlooked as an aspect of adolescent development.

A 2014 study published in the journal of Social Developmentexplored the way peer relationships affect kids’ eating choices and how those eating choices affect kids’ attitudes towards food. When exposed to a peer they did not already know happily eating a foreign food, children as young as preschool age began to show a liking for that food. This social referencing and modeling behavior can be conceptualized as children perceiving this peer as a “hero,” or someone to idolize.[4] Instagram influencers carry this same appeal. Although strangers, they are similar enough to our kids to be perceived as peers. They carefully craft their brand to be perfectly positioned for influence, inspiration, and, ultimately, profit.

At the risk of oversimplifying, it’s important to note that this isn’t simply just a case of monkey-see, monkey-do with vegan dieting. Teens who want to start living vegan have their own reasons behind making dietary lifestyle choices. The trouble begins when dieting practices become unsafe, followed blindly by followers who do not realize the risks.

A 2019 article published in the Telegraph dubs “Dr. Instagram” a threat to millennial health, citing that 38% of millennials have greater trust in their peers when it comes to health concerns than they do for actual medical professionals.[5] This figure is important, because it highlights a legitimate concern that our kids will be too relaxed when it comes to health decisions.

Start Talking, Stay Healthy

Everyone should have the right to make dietary choices that make them happy as well as healthy. If your child is curious about going vegan or already is, consider these steps to ensure they remain healthy and safe.

  • Teach your child how to identify expert credibility.
  • Stress that Instagram content is entertainment only.
  • If your child is considering a radical nutritional shift, require that they see a licensed nutritionist for healthy planning.
  • Encourage your child to prioritize personal health over popular fads.

Thank you to our GKIS intern Chelsea Letham for reminding us that teaching our kids how to accurately assess expertise and credibility is a critical life skill. To help your kids use good judgement online and not fall victim to risky diets and lifestyle choices, pickup your quick-and-easy supplement How to Spot Marketing Red Flag Supplement today.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
GetKidsInternetSafe.com

Works Cited

[1] https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/vegan/?hl=en

[2] Libatique, R. (2019, February 20). Ex-vegan Tim Shieff dropped by vegan clothing company ETHCS. Vegan News. Retrieved from https://vegannews.co/

[3] Horton, H. (2019, March 24). Instagram vegan diets are risking malnutrition among millennials, Harley Street nutritionists warn. The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/

[4] Houldcraft, L., Haycraft, E., & Farrow, C. (2014). Peer and friend influences on children’s eating. Social Development, 23(1), 19-40. doi: 10.1111/sode.12036

[5] Jackson Gee, T. (2019, April 7). Is Dr. Instagram ruining your health? The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/

Photo Credits

Photo by Dose Juice on Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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