One billion people use Instagram actively per month, and this channel has become an increasingly important source for food and nutrition information. And yet, there is too much fake nutrition news out there which are harmful to consumers. Simone talked to journalist Laxmi Haigh for nutritioninsight.com about our mission with Nutrition Hub and why credentialed nutrition experts need to engage in nutrition education on social media.
The future is personal, but the revolution is already taking place around us. Innovative science is combining with entrepreneurial endeavor to bring personalized nutrition to our fingertips. As personalized nutrition eyes the mass market, strategic partnerships between tech-savvy start-ups and larger companies will be crucial to mainstream growth. But, as social media hungry consumers continue to digest nutrition information from a range of self-professed nutrition gurus, where does the onus lie on regulating nutritional knowledge and debunking fake news?
Simone says,“Personalized nutrition is a new product and service. It’s about to enter the mass market, but we are not yet there. When we speak about personalized nutrition, it seems like everything is clear. But when you speak to the average consumer, it becomes clear that there is confusion. Therefore, we position the nutrition experts in the space and ecosystem to share more knowledge about nutrition.”
A 2018 consumer study conducted by DSM found that only 7% of people in Europe are confident about what the term “personalized nutrition” means and in UK, 55% of respondents had never heard of personalized nutrition, and levels of experience of the approach are low across Europe.
A barrier to overcome in the space is the rise of self-professed nutrition experts on social media platforms. Simone details that in Germany, so-called social media nutrition experts outnumber qualified nutritionists nine to one. This means that consumers may receive doubtful nutrition information nine times for every one nugget of actual certified nutrition. So-called nutrition gurus or fit girls (and boys) can amass followers in the millions, but they often pump out advice that medical professionals and qualified nutritionists may not agree with. From positioning celery juice as cancer-curing nectar to pushing a diet that consists of 50 bananas a day, some of the nutrition advice can even border on reckless.
“Social media is great because with that the access to information has been democratized. But it has also led to everyone talking about nutrition, and everyone having an opinion on it. But as we are speaking about a science here, it needs to be about facts. Self-professed experts may talk about nutrition, but it's often not evidence-driven. It may work for one individual, but not others.” This could even chip away at the trust consumers hold for nutrition. “If we somehow can balance this imbalance, we could reverse the impact. More qualified nutritionists could be one way, for example.” expresses Simone.
Social media has also come under the nutrition spotlight as experts have linked the rise of social media health pages with cases of orthorexia nervosa, a condition where putative eating disorder vying for a place in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), roughly translating to “eating right.” According to Dr. Cristina Hanganu-Bresch, such social media health pages peddle potentially harmful narratives around health and thinness, as opposed to sound nutritional advice. The ease with which half-baked nutrition science gets circulated is one factor that creates the ideal conditions for orthorexia, Dr. Hanganu-Bresch notes.
Partnering up for innovation
Aside from ensuring quality nutrition advice reaches the ears of consumers, personalized nutrition can be brought to the masses through start-ups being taken on by the venturing arms of larger companies. The space has been busy, with direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing (GT) becoming increasingly popular, for example. A host of companies such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe market genetic “insights” into ancestry and physical attributes. Canada-based Nutrigenomix also recently developed the first genetic test kit to be used exclusively by healthcare professionals.
Simone says "What we see now in the new phase is that the start-ups are truly tech and science-driven, and they will continue to develop the market and have really smart partnerships. A restaurant that provides personalized food may partner up with a diagnostic company, for example.”
Mayo Clinic and Viome – a company transforming health through personalized nutrition based on individual and microbiome biology – joined forces to better understand the role of nutrition in disease. So, the start-up winners here will be the ones that set up smart partnerships with companies that may not even be from the space.
“We see companies that were not connected to food and nutrition to suddenly being active in the space,” concludes Simone.
The extended version of the article can be read here.
About the author
Laxmi Haigh is a writer and journalist, currently working as the Deputy Editor of NutritionInsight. She specializes in food and nutrition topics that weave in an array of themes from culture, to tech and sustainability, and more.