New media may challenge official dietary recommendations

Danes increasingly search for information about healthy food on new media such a food blogs and social media platforms. However, information from these sources is not always evidence-based, and sometimes it runs counter to official health recommendations. This can pose a challenge for the authorities. In a new study, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University examines the issue.

2017.11.24 | Lotte Rystedt

The Danes look for information about healthy food through many different sources. However, using the internet to find information is more prevalent in Denmark than in other countries - especially among young people. Photo: Colourbox

Even though Danes place more trust in the health and nutrition information they get from the authorities and from healthcare institutions, they trust the information they get from other sources, such as friends, family and social media, almost as much. However, often there is no evidence to support the health and dietary information from these sources, and sometimes the information runs counter to and criticises the official recommendations.

This can pose a challenge for the authorities. For this reason, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration has asked Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University to study where consumers look for dietary and health information and how much they trust the various sources.

The study has been conducted by the MAPP Centre at Aarhus BSS and has resulted in the report ”Kostinformation og nye medier – en forundersøgelse om anvendelse og tillid” (in Danish). The report is a preliminary study, which should be seen as the first step towards meeting the need of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration to map the problem and to clarify how to deal with it.

The report has been published by the Danish Centre for Food and Agriculture (DCA) and has been ordered by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration as part of Aarhus University’s agreement on research-based public sector consultancy.

Young people seek dietary information on the internet

Just like citizens in other countries, Danes look for information about healthy food through many different sources. However, using the internet to find information is more prevalent in Denmark than in other countries - especially among young people.

In the report, the researchers also look at how the citizens’ use of and confidence in evidence-based information can be strengthened and how the problem of unreliable information can be dealt with. Here the researchers have, among other things, looked at other European countries.

- We’ve looked at how the authorities in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium deal with the problem. All of their representatives tell us that keeping up with the development within new media and dietary trends is a big challenge. However, all of them believe that in order to promote evidence-based knowledge about food and nutrition, it is crucial that the authorities are active on social media, says Lise Bundgaard, who is a research assistant at the MAPP Centre at Aarhus University. She is behind the report along with Professor Tino Bech-Larsen. 

Authorities need increased social media presence

The Swedish National Food Agency, the Swedish counterpart to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, has successfully used social media such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram to share videos about the Swedish dietary recommendations targeted towards young adults. The videos were viewed 2.1 million times on Facebook and YouTube, and there was a high degree of interaction, especially among young people.

- We can conclude that there is a potential for the authorities to engage with consumers to an even greater extent through the new media. In that connection, we think it is relevant to study how the citizens’ confusion about eating healthy arises. We also need to clarify how the authorities can be perceived as the most sought-after and credible source of information about healthy food on social media, says Lise Bundgaard.

Read the entire DCA report ”Kostinformation og nye medier – en forundersøgelse om anvendelse og tillid” here (in Danish)


For further information, please contact:

Lise Bundgaard, research assistant

MAPP Centre, Aarhus University

Email: lise@mgmt.au.dk

Tel.: +45 87 16 48 12

DCA, Food