Healthy diets – what are the top topics on Twitter?
The top topics being discussed in the #healthydiet discourse on Twitter include special diets, nutrition, exercise, diseases, and healthy lifestyle.
Public health professionals who wish to influence the healthy diet discourse should engage in topics, use similar and accessible language, and include the hashtags prominent in the discourse. Emphasis your credibility by sharing evidence-backed health information and advice and referencing your credentials in your bio and tweets.
A study conducted by The Irish Institute of Digital Business at Dublin City University, in conjunction with safefood, sought to identify the most influential users, communities and topics discussing healthy diets on Twitter. Over 1.2 million tweets featuring the #healthydiet hashtag were analysed from January 2018 to April 2019.
- Topics being discussed within the #healthydiet discourse on Twitter included: special diets, nutrition, exercise, diseases and healthy lifestyle.
- The type of topical content being shared by users with high similarity to bots and spam tweets was different to that of the wider dataset. This included content promoting high protein, low/no carb and ketogenic diets, which may be contrary to credible health advice.
- The study recommends that health professionals and bodies who wish to share credible information in the healthy diet discourse should engage and interact with topics being discussed by communities using language, symbols (#’@), icons and phrases users will be familiar with.
Topic content analysis
To understand the content and topics being discussed in the healthy diet discourse, the study conducted a topic content analysis. It aimed to identify the high level topics being discussed by both highly visible and active users, including by automated software and bots discussed in a previous bulletin. Health and Ingest dictionaries were used for the content analysis, with URLs removed from tweets in the dataset, and then a lexicon-based classifier was used to count the frequency of occurrence of each word.
Unsurprisingly, the top topics identified in the dataset included: diet, nutrition, exercise, weight, diseases and healthy lifestyle. It is not surprising that diet is by far the most discussed topic in both Health and Ingest, accounting for typically 8-10 times the tweet volume in Health and 3-4 times the tweet volume in Ingest.
In Health, common topics included nutrition and disease-related tweets, specifically diabetes. In verified and general accounts, cancer is also relatively prominent. Ingest topics are similar with diet, food, eat/eating and weight being the most prominent. Weight is more prominent in tweets generated by spam accounts.
Fat(s) does not feature in the top ten topics by verified users in Health and Ingest but does in the general population, and significantly so in spam accounts. It is noteworthy that obesity is not a prominent topic in any category.
As diet was a focus of the study, the study classified tweets based on the prominence of words related to well-known special diets including high protein/low or no carbohydrate, vegan/vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free, high carbohydrate, and other dietary regimes.
The study highlighted how few tweets reference the language of popular diets. It suggests this may be due to the focus of the conversation or that more relatable language is used.
The analysis found two clusters emerged around high protein/low or no carbohydrate diets and vegan/vegetarian diets. For the former, ketogenic diets are significantly more prominent which is consistent with the study’s Influencer findings and the prominence of the South Beach Diet.
A difference was also identified in the type of topical content being shared by users with high similarity to bots and in spam tweets, when compared to the wider dataset. This included a higher number of tweets in the promotion of high protein, low/no carb and ketogenic diets, which may be contrary to credible health advice. This is a challenge for health professionals and experts seeking to promote their message.
What should public health professionals do?
Cutting through the noise created by the most active users and the promotion of diets which may be contrary to health advice is a significant challenge for health communication.
The study recommends that health professionals and bodies who wish to share credible information in the healthy diet discourse should:
- Make their language and message more accessible, interesting and relatable
- Answer questions and include keywords, icons, symbols and hashtags being used by users and communities
- Regularly engage in topics being discussed by sharing evidence-backed health information and advice
- If possible, emphasise their credentials in their bio and tweet