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Several patients with cancer increasingly use social media platforms to look up health information, online recipes, and nutrition content, but many social media posts may be confusing or misleading. According to a recent study about the online cancer nutrition misinformation published in the American Cancer Society Journals on April 5, 2022, “one-third of cancer nutrition information on the Pinterest platform is misleading and posted by businesses trying to sell products.”
“Half of the Content Sites Were For-profit”
“Our results revealed a significant amount of misinformation about cancer and nutrition,” said the study co-author Tracy Crane, an associate professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She also noted that there is “a pervasiveness of health claims that are not necessarily valid or coming from reliable sources.”
The analysts have searched Pinterest using the keywords “cancer recipe” and “recipe for cancer” in June 2020, three times daily for two weeks. After removing duplicated posts, the final sample of 103 pins contained cancer claims about treatment, prevention, and nutrition claims and recipes. The researchers also examined associations between claim types and contextual factors, including academic citations, disclaimers, and personal anecdotes.
The study proved that almost half of the content sites were for-profit, and 34% were selling a product. The report also noted that health claims were common, with 41,8% of the content purporting to be about prevention and 10,7% about the cure. Phrases like “anti-cancer,” “cancer-fighting,” and “cancer-busting” were also used.
The results section declared that “the inclusion of validity indicators including academic citations, disclaimers, and personal anecdotes varied significantly by the types of claims made.” According to the study, these analyses informed the development of a conceptual framework of cancer-related nutrition misinformation.
Cancer Nutrition Content Can Influence the Patient’s Behavior
According to the study, “there are clear financial incentives for the cancer nutrition information online promotion.” But more research is needed to understand how exposure to nutrition information can influence a patient’s behavior.
Tracy Crane has stated in a university news release that health care providers need to determine the best ways to help patients identify online and reliable information and can also create handouts to help patients and caregivers find reputable sources.
“We need to be asking more questions about where people are getting their information and how that may be affecting their health,” Tracy Crane concluded.