Avoid advice given by influencers, it is often not very true

Many scientific studies have already warned that most of the nutritional advice given by social media influencers is highly unreliable, even dangerous. Now researchers at the University of Delaware are warning of a similar risk, this time with contraception. Their research was published in the journal Health Communication suggests that, in addition to the fact that adolescents and young adults may receive inaccurate information about sexual health, contraceptive advice given by influencers may put young people at risk of unplanned pregnancy. Therefore, the scientific team believes that public access to these numerous popular videos without any scientific validation should be considered a real public health problem. To reach this conclusion, they analyzed many YouTube videos posted by well-known influencers talking about their experiences with contraception.

First, they noted that subscribers receive more information about stopping hormonal contraception (the pill, patch, vaginal ring, implant, intramuscular injection) than how to use contraception or practice safe sex. “ Previous research shows that influencers are more persuasive and effective than traditional celebrities because they are accessible. Young people find them very reliable, young women say that influencers can be seen as close sisters. YouTube influencers especially share personal information that is known to strengthen relationships with subscribers. », shows the scientific team. A total of 50 videos published between December 2019 and December 2021 by influencers with between 20,000 and 2.2 million followers were identified. The videos were then analyzed to determine influencers’ attitudes toward hormonal and non-hormonal contraception, such as fertility trackers and condoms.

Effectiveness of applications: still limitations

The results showed that the majority of YouTube users talked about stopping the use of hormonal contraception, with 92% saying they had used it or had used it, and 74% had stopped or planned to stop using it. The main reasons given were a desire to find a more ‘natural’ method of contraception and to improve their mental health. However, “ The relationship between depression and hormonal birth control is still unclear. “Researchers say in the face of this argument. Additionally, nearly 40% of influencers said they use or have used non-hormonal contraception, with apps to track their menstrual cycles and check their fertility being the most popular method. The reasons for using them were to prevent pregnancies without the financial costs and side effects associated with taking hormones to restore their bodies. But according to the study’s lead author, Emily Pfender, the growing popularity of these apps raises questions about their insecurity.

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First of all, the information contained in these programs can be potentially dangerous. ” Cycle tracking may not be as effective at preventing pregnancy as hormonal birth control. Furthermore, what younger internet users don’t see in influencer content is the effort and careful planning that goes into the later stages. For example, to use the cycle tracking method as intended, women must accurately measure the temperature and viscosity of the cervical mucus (cells that secrete mucus called cervical mucus, which changes in appearance during the cycle) at the same time every day. To calculate their fertile window, track the length of the cycle and avoid intercourse on certain days. “, he says. The observation in France is the same for Inserm, who notes that recent scientific publications allow us to see more clearly the effectiveness of these applications, more than half of which are based on unreliable parameters to predict fertility. cycle and ovulation date.

Young people need to think critically

Indeed, as rigorous research and literature review has shown, they are based on the menstrual calendar method, actually a digital version of the “Ogino method”. However, this has significant limitations, as changes in cycle length of 7 days or more occur in half of the female population. Even in women with very regular cycles, ovulation days vary. “, notes Inserm. So this shows that most of these programs, based only on the calendar method, make prediction errors. The study also said that very few of those who stop their hormonal contraceptives switch to a scientifically proven alternative method. ” Stopping hormonal contraception is risky because it increases the chance of an unplanned pregnancy. Videos that discourage the use of effective birth control options and discourage the use of other forms of protection to prevent pregnancy and STIs are a public health problem. »Emily Pfender notes.

For their next study, the scientific team wants to determine what type of people watch these videos more and whether certain age groups are more sensitive to them than others. The authors conclude that while social media can be a valuable source of information, young people should be cautious about giving advice about contraception. ” Accessing sexual health information from social media allows young adults to learn the perspective of their peers and seek relevant information. This is a particularly effective way to access personalized sexual health information for underrepresented groups such as LGBTQ+ young adults. However, it is important for young people to critically evaluate the health information they receive from social media and the source of the information. They should be skeptical of a one-size-fits-all approach to health based on information found on the Internet.. “, concludes Emily Pfender.

In turn, Inserm warns that even if there are more reliable parameters such as body temperature, the appearance of cervical mucus or the concentration of luteinizing hormone in the urine (which increases immediately before ovulation), these are rarely taken into account in the application algorithms. . And in fact, if some applications can offer monitoring based on them and therefore high theoretical efficiency, they oppose women’s use of them in their daily lives. Because according to the organization, many users find it difficult to follow the instructions required by the programs. Routinely recording menstrual dates, taking temperature, or interpreting the appearance of cervical mucus are restrictive procedures that, if not followed thoroughly, render predictive algorithms ineffective. Another issue to consider is privacy protection: most apps do not take sufficient measures to protect users’ personal data, especially when shared with third-party companies.

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