George MacLeod, General Manager of Dairygold Health & Nutrition; Rachel Mullins, Presentation Secondary School Mitchelstown; Rian Leahy, Glanmire Community College and Professor Alan Kelly, Food Science Vice-Head of School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, UCC. Photo: Tomas Tyner/UCC

Teens study influencers’ health claims

More than half of teenagers in one school are unsure if diets promoted by social media influencers are healthy and attainable, according to new research.

The student-led research from Presentation Secondary Mitchelstown found that 57% of students in their school stated that they were unsure if diets promoted on social media are healthy and attainable.

The survey results formed part of a project that won a science communication competition held in UCC.

Avarose Moher, Ellalouise Burke, Orla Fogarty and Meadhbh Kenneally of Presentation Secondary Mitchelstown were crowned winners of the Appetite for Knowledge competition, funded by the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme and hosted in UCC’s historic Aula Maxima.

The winning team’s project Influencers vs Science, explored whether social media influencers give good dietary advice and display a healthy balanced diet, if influencers genuinely care about their target audience, and if they are qualified to give this advice.

“The study that we used to back up our research showed us that only 1 in 9 influencers gave actual scientifically proven nutrition advice. Whether this is from a lack of education or a lack of trustworthy resources, it inspired us to make a change, thus why we're here today,” the winners said in their submission.

15 teams from nine secondary schools from all over county Cork took part in Appetite for Knowledge, and topics presented included Fungi - how they can save the world and the human species, Sustainability of Food, and Genetically Modified Organisms and the fight to end world hunger.

The competition was judged by an external panel featuring subject experts and industry leaders including Dr Majella O’Keeffe, Programme Director & Senior Lecturer MSc Human Nutrition & Dietetic UCC, George MacLeod, general manager of Dairygold Health & Nutrition, and Christopher Braganza, this year's winner of RTÉ’s tv show ‘Battle of the Food Trucks’.

Appetite for Knowledge is a science communication forum for young people to explore and talk about food-nutritional-agricultural sciences through their chosen creative presentation styles, with the goal of sowing a seed of awareness, engagement and empowerment amongst the next generation.

Often, our relationship with food is constructed by our parents, family and peers, and these views can have an enormous effect on health and well-being throughout life. By engaging directly with school students, an audience that is often vulnerable to misinformation regarding healthy food and nutrition, this project has allowed them to explore views and expand their knowledge of this key area of daily life.

The food industry is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, employing 56,000 people and worth +€11.5 billion annually to the economy.

This competition has been specifically designed to engage transition year students, by helping to support the core science curriculum and broadening young people’s exposure to food, nutritional and agricultural sciences.

Professor Alan Kelly of UCC’s School of Food & Nutritional Sciences and author of ‘How Scientists Communicate’ and ‘Molecules, Microbes and Meals’, who was MC at the event, said: “The event was a phenomenal display of the budding young science communicators of tomorrow.”

George MacLeod, general manager of Dairygold Health & Nutrition said: “Dairygold Health & Nutrition are delighted to sponsor the Appetite for Knowledge program in conjunction with UCC, promoting exposure to education and career opportunities within the food, nutritional and agricultural sciences sectors.”