December 8, 2017 / 6:28 PM / 2 years ago

Credibility, recipes, references help food blogs improve eating habits

(Reuters Health) - Consumers like healthy eating blogs written by nutritionists who seem credible and who interact with their readers, a small study in Canada suggests.

The researchers looked at what properties of a food blog are most likely to encourage readers to make healthy changes in eating behavior. They also found that references and links to extra information boosted both credibility and usefulness.

“Health professionals and laypersons alike frequently enlist blogs as way to provide dietary advice or to tell their story. But the internet is a vortex for conflicting - and oftentimes wildly inaccurate - information, especially when it comes to a healthy diet,” said New Jersey-based independent nutritionist Felicia Stoler, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Blogs can provide a great reference for inspiration and motivation,” said Stoler, who holds a doctorate in clinical nutrition from Rutgers University. “But you need to look for credible sources. Preferably a registered dietician. It’s not uncommon for physicians, chiropractors and chefs to position themselves as nutritionists. Unfortunately, these folks don’t necessarily have the adequate background or training to properly advise individuals on their diet.”

Sophie Desroches of the Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods at Laval University in Quebec City and her colleagues recruited a group of women to assess four healthy-eating blogs written by French Canadian registered dieticians.

The thirty-three participants answered questions and provided feedback on the usefulness and ease of use of each of the blogs.

Desroches, who didn’t respond to a request for comments, and her colleagues found that certain types of content and design features in a blog got the highest scores for usefulness. Of these, recipes, hyperlinks and references were the most important.

Hyperlinks provided an easier way to direct readers to additional resources while references, including blogger bios, improved the users’ feeling that the blogger is a credible source, according to the results in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The study participants also assumed that featured recipes were nutritionally sound, which in turn made them more inclined to incorporate those recipes into their own diets.

Interaction between bloggers and blog readers enhanced ease of use and facilitated a sense of connection between content creators and readers, the researchers also found. That connection made readers more likely to move toward improving their dietary behaviors.

One of the surprising findings, the study team notes, was that users preferred a narrative approach to food-related personal experiences over and above straight expert advice - as long as the storytelling was coming from a credible source.

Many users found that videos weren’t relevant unless they featured specific cooking techniques, and on average, women felt videos were much too long. The users did tend to like vibrant colors, eye-catching photos and text that was well organized with subheadings.

The researchers acknowledge in their report that they studied just a small sampling of the healthy eating blogs on the internet, and that their group of assessors may not represent all French Canadian users.

Stoler advises readers of healthy eating blogs to maintain a degree of skepticism and ask themselves certain questions. Might this blogger be getting paid to promote a certain agenda? Is he or she disclosing any conflicts of interest? Does the blogger have any bias in favor of whatever they’re promoting?

SOURCE: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, online October 26, 2017.

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