UAE residents warned against 'blindly' following health influencers

As many as 29 per cent of residents follow health influencers



by

Waheed Abbas

Published: Fri 3 Dec 2021, 10:28 AM

Health experts in the UAE have warned residents against following health influencers’ recommendations, as they’re not qualified enough to recommend medications or their suggestions could be biased in favour of the products they’re promoting.

Doctors advised residents to source information that is accurate and beneficial for people's well-being from the local health authorities and medical professionals.

A new survey conducted by YouGov has revealed that three in four UAE residents follow some kind of social media influencers. As many as 29 per cent of residents follow health influencers.

Dr George Cherian, an internal medicine specialist at Aster Clinic, said a significant percentage of residents following health influencers is not encouraging.

“They are not experts in medical terminology and may not impart the right messages. Medical information should be received only from the local health authorities which is the most reliable source,” he said.

Dr Ammar Safar, ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital UAE, said health influencers recommend service providers based on their personal opinion, hence their recommendations may be biased and can be beneficial to them only.

“Some health influencers may not have required healthcare qualification to assess the level of medical advice given by a provider. Therefore, the public is advised to know the background of the influencer to be sure of the advice being given to them,” said Safar.

He advised residents to do research and seek final medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional only.

According to YouGov’s latest survey, YouTube is the most popular media channel that UAE residents follow influencers on, followed by Facebook (62 per cent), Instagram (56 per cent), TikTok (36 per cent), Twitter (32 per cent) and Snapchat (20 per cent). On the other hand, 19 per cent of residents claim that they don’t follow influencers.

Lina Shibib, a nutritionist at Medcare Hospital, said, in the social media world, influencers’ endorsements do not always represent their experience and opinion.

“Even if an influencer claims that a product or service was effective or amazing, the risk is always there that the same would not work for you, or even worse, it may have serious side effects for the followers. Influencers tend to present various efficacy claims, but omit all risk information and limitations of the use of products and services,” she said.

Shibib said that UAE consumers can gather information from social media but eventually, medical advice should be taken from a qualified doctor or medical professional only.

“Many of my patients receive medical advice on social media, and eventually come and ask for my professional opinion. I think social media is a great tool for people to know about the various treatment ways, but they should proceed with the treatment and medicine after it has been approved by a doctor,” she said.

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Dr Jasbir Chhatwal, head of department and specialist for obstetrics and gynaecology at Zulekha Hospital, Dubai, pointed out that social media media and influencers can have both positive and negative effects on people.

“As we know there can be inauthentic partnership and content endorsed by health influencers which should not be trusted blindly by people. Their ability to portray accurate messages is something that should not be overlooked by people. Check the authenticity and regulatory bodies approval before believing and following blindly the different health influencers,” she said.

Dr Mohammed Ashraf, specialist for internal medicine, at Zulekha Hospital, said health influencers try to persuade followers to buy medical products, take up some exercises and shun scientifically-proven treatments, or even vaccinations.

“Since medical degree or training aren’t required to be a medical influencer, not all advice is sound and some can be dangerous to follow. For example, some may quit the medications substituting it to only diet and lifestyle or some fancy herbal products to control hypertension, diabetes etc. and land up in serious complications like stroke, coma or organ failure,” said Dr Ashraf.

He warned that in many instances people are eager to try various health supplements, which may have serious effects on the consumer’s body for long-term consumption.

“Any information obtained from influencers need to be verified by competent medical practitioners to avoid serious health consequences. Healthy diet and lifestyle should be the motto and seek medical attention when necessary is a sensible and clever practice,” he added.

Types of influencers most followed by UAE residents:

29 per cent health

28 per cent food

26 per cent sports

24 per cent celebrity

23 per cent music

Media channels UAE residents follow influencers on:

66 per centYouTube

62 per cent Facebook

56 per cent Instagram

36 per cent TikTok

32 per cent Twitter

Source: YouGov, KT Research


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