Your friends have been posting over-filtered photos of their food to social media since the birth of Instagram in 2010. In fact, Virgin Mobile research shows that food pictures are the second most common type of photo taken by Australians and third most common to be seen on social media feeds (behind location shots and selfies), with 90 new #foodporn photos uploaded every minute.
So with a steady stream of drool-worthy food filling our feeds and 63% of Australian adults overweight, how can Instagram play a role in improving public health?
Finding like-minded people on Instagram is only a hashtag away, which is something UOW Senior Lecturer in Public Health, Dr Bridget Kelly says is a key ingredient in improving a population’s health.
“A sense of community is extremely important for our mental and physical health. Key features of ‘community’ are shared traits with others, trust, reciprocity and mutual support. Instagram can help us to link in with others who have like-minded interests and passions, and to have a sense of identification and belonging.”
Having a feed full of good food and healthy lifestyle images can help motivate positive change. UOW graduate and Insta-famous dietitian, Rebecca Gawthorne receives regular feedback about how powerful her images can be.
“One girl in particular told me that she used to find fruit and veggies boring and it would be rare if she ate any fruits or veggies even once a week. Then she started following my IG and loved the vibrant fruit and veggie pics I posted and started trying some of my recipes. After just a few days she started to feel better physically and mentally.”
Being bombarded by fast food advertising makes it hard to resist. Dr Kelly says that having a healthy feed of Instagram images could help balance the scales and give you new ideas.
“Our constant exposures to junk food promotions give us the impression that these foods are a normal part of our everyday. Shifting our environment to one that promotes positive food cues and healthy lifestyle messages will go some way to create more positive food environments.”
UOW grad Tanya Poppett is helping people do just that. She not only posts new recipes and inspiring images, she even developed her own fitness app to help people move more, keep their workouts fresh and support each other by starting the #trainwithtanya community.
New health initiatives are great, but if they don’t get in front of the right eyeballs, then little impact can be made. Dr Kelly feels social media has a big role to play.
“Cutting through the noise to promote public messages about health is tough. Social media platforms can provide the reach and engagement that is needed. We can learn from the huge success of commercial marketers on these platforms and engage user communities and build ‘brands’ around healthy messages.”
Don’t take it too seriously
We know it’s not real life. We now some people are getting paid to promote products. We know we’ll probably never look like them (and don’t have to). So it’s important we only follow those that make us feel good.
“We need to take these images for what they are – people displaying the very best and most interesting version of themselves – otherwise there’s a risk of negative impacts on psychosocial wellbeing and body image,” says Dr Kelly.
Interested in the key issues affecting the health of populations? Check out UOW’s degrees in Public Health and where they can take you.