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Are digital influencers responsible for giving health and fitness advice online?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Known as the Active Generation, Millennials and Gen Z have increasingly become concerned about healthier lifestyles, with a social trend defining these groups. A 2024 Brain Strategic Intelligence survey revealed that Generation Z is the one that exercises the most, with 46% of young people playing sports regularly. The main motivations are improving health, reducing stress, and aesthetic concerns. 

As they are an active audience on the internet, the behavior of these younger generations is also gaining ground on social media. The age range between 18 and 34 years old represents more than 60% of global Instagram users, according to data from Statista. As a result of the trend towards a better quality of life, fitness, and lifestyle influencers are gaining more traction on platforms. But how do they communicate health issues even though they are not specialized professionals? What is the responsibility behind these contents? 

For Lucas Barreto, a digital content creator on the profile @barretovs, influencers act as transmitters of health experts. “Diet advice, leave it to the nutritionists. Training advice, leave it to physical educators. Influencers are kind of promoters of these professionals, their teachings, and at most information that’s already generally known about food.”  

Karol Camargo, who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and Health from the University of São Paulo and also creates content on her profile @kaarolfc, believes that the new generation has greater access to information and, therefore, the awareness that physical activity needs to be done for health and not just aesthetics. 

Both agree that when it comes to health-related topics on social media, influencers carry a huge responsibility. “Because an influencer is often more valued than a professional, but in my network, many influencers are doing nice work that stimulates people in the right way.” And healthy followers also encourage the search for professionals”, says Karol. 

Born in Minas Gerais, Lucas shares his running and gastronomy lifestyle on social media. His relationship with physical activity began as a child, it was a way to release energy. “It was very good for me, it put me at my center.” But it was in the post-pandemic time that Lucas started posting his training routine. For only over two years, Lucas has challenged himself in running, “a challenge for someone who is extremely agitated and anxious like me”. 

The CEO of N&K healthcare and owner of the branch Karol Camargo Space says that its purpose on social media is to “encourage and motivate people to move regularly, to promote physical and mental health”. The professional is also an official Nike trainer, at Time Well Collective, teaching functional training classes and participating in conversation circles. In addition to participating in the Big Girls Club, a project created by Lettícia Munniz, to encourage women to move.

Can Gymtok and other social media be a toxic space?

In addition to the commitment to disseminate health information responsibly, digital content creators also need to pay attention to the routine they share. Although they are encouraging healthy habits, sharing a “perfect” routine, without also communicating the difficulties and creating content to raise awareness about the “reality outside the screen”, can have a reverse effect on those who follow.

A study by the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in 2019, evaluated the advice of nine famous fitness bloggers in the United Kingdom and revealed that eight provided unreliable advice. Although the study was made in the European country, it fits as a global warning about the information found on the internet. The reliability of the information depends on the references and origin of the data, in addition to the risk of distortion and misinterpretation, especially by individuals who are not specialists.

Fitness influencers bear a significant responsibility regarding the mental health of their audience, explains the psychoanalyst Camila Custódio. “By promoting realistic and healthy messages that respect bodily and emotional diversity, they can mitigate the negative impacts of excessive idealization.”

The hashtag #Fitspiration, used on social media to promote healthy habits, appears in almost 100 million posts on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook. However, the study “Hashtag fitspiration: credibility screening and content analysis of Instagram Fitness Accounts 2023” revealed that much of this content can cause negative effects, such as body dissatisfaction and excessive focus on appearance. Analyzing the last 15 posts from the 100 most popular Instagram accounts at the time, the research found that 15% showed underweight or very muscular people, 22% contained nudity or inappropriate clothing, 26% were sexualized and 41% had few posts that were focused in fitness. 

The content consumed and produced deserves attention. Custódio says that the incessant search for aesthetic perfection, often promoted by influencers, can trigger personal dissatisfaction.

“Frequent exposure to supposedly ideal bodies can generate a feeling of inadequacy about one’s own body, intensifying unattainable beauty standards and promoting a culture of constant comparison. From a psychoanalytic perspective, the idealization of these perfect bodies can act as a trigger for the emergence of anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. The incessant search for achieving an unrealistic aesthetic standard can generate a disconnection with one’s own identity and a constant feeling of frustration at the impossibility of achieving such standards”, adds the specialist.

How can digital influencers find a balance in what they convey to the public?

When considering physical exercise, it is important to understand your routine.  Karol Camargo believes that content creators need to be aware of how our country is constituted. “Their reality as an influencer is not the reality of most people. Based on this awareness, they bring balanced and healthy speeches to those who watch.”

For Lucas Barreto, transparency will always be the healthiest way to share about health. He says that it is important for the influencer to make their exercise and eating routine clear to their audience, “especially the reality behind the routine that is shown in a romanticized way”, he adds. “I’ve already injured myself, I have a 3cm cyst on my knee. I’ve already given up in the middle of a race. I’ve already dehydrated. And I show all of this to my audience, and not just the super low “PACE”, or the races that went super well. I believe that the most faithful way to inspire someone is to prove that everyone begins somewhere and that in the end, the important thing is to start”, says Lucas. 

Camila Custódio reinforces that content that emphasizes the importance of self-care, body acceptance and the search for a healthy balance between exercise, nutrition, and emotional well-being is essential. Lucas highlights the need to show mistakes and successes, saying that you won’t always wake up willing to go training, “however, exercising is something that only you can do for yourself, and the reward of going is much better than not going”.

And how do you follow the “right” person?

The advice from Karol is to reflect: “Does the content of the person I follow motivate me or frustrate me?” She asked this question herself, especially during the pandemic, and when the answer was frustration she stopped following.“It did me a lot of good.” Another point is to understand that social networks are selected fragments of reality. “You choose how and what you will tell, no one’s life is straight and without errors and frustrations”, says the Big Girls Club coach.

A psychoanalyst Camila agrees and says the public must develop a critical stance about the shared messages. “Self-knowledge and understanding one’s limits and needs are fundamental to preserving mental health in the face of constant exposure to unattainable standards”, she adds.


The article above was edited by Ludmila Costa.

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Victória Abreu

Casper Libero '25

Estudante de jornalismo na Cásper Líbero, pisciana curiosa, gosto de aprender e falar de tudo um pouco