Health Advice and Gym
While there is no pre-existing information to specifically prove whether the casual gym goer in the US is confused or mistrustful of health advice they receive, we have used the available information to triangulate some meaningful insights on this topic. It is estimated that 45.8 million casual gym goers in the United States have been exposed to conflicting health information, and 25.65 million of this group have indicated that this conflicting information is confusing to them. We have also identified some other meaningful insights on this topic, which are discussed in greater detail below. Additionally, we have included a methodology and an explanation of our assumptions.
As health advice was not defined it was interpreted widely to include any type of health-related advice on fitness and nutrition, from any source of information including health professionals, media, and friends and family. An extensive search of media articles, market research surveys and academic studies from the past two years revealed none that specifically addressed the feelings of non-competitive athletes/casual gym-goers in regard to health advice. We expanded our search to include information from years prior to 2016 and outside of the US. Due to the lack of information specifically regarding non-competitive/casual gym-goers, we also considered the US population in general on the basis that the majority of people exercise on a casual basis, with the most recent data finding per the CDC in that just over half of Americans exercise enough to meet the US “Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity”. As of May 2016 only 10,260 of the US population were “Athletes and Sports Competitors” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If we include athletes who are not professional but do partake in the competitive sporting activity of marathons, this increases to 0.5% of the population. Therefore, given that no information exists publicly focusing casual gym-goers only, we can broadly equate the attitudes and reactions of the general population with that of casual gym-goers, as over half of the population exercises but less than 1% do so competitively.
confusion among casual gym goers
Although we did not identify any publicly available data that provides specific evidence regarding casual gym goers being confused about receiving health advice, we did locate some key findings that allowed us to triangulate estimates that may prove your theory. First, we learned that almost 8 in 10 Americans (or 80%) are exposed to conflicting health information, and for 56 percent of this group, conflicting information leads to confusion. Second, as previously mentioned, we learned that less than one percent of Americans are competitive athletes. As a result, we can assume that 99 percent of Americans with gym memberships are casual gym goers. Finally, because it is estimated that 57.25 million Americans had gym memberships in 2016, we can calculate that there are 56,677,500 casual gym goers in the United States (57,250,000 * 0.99). As a result of these findings, we have estimated that 45,800,000 of casual gym goers have received conflicting health information (45,800,000 * 0.8), and 25,648,000 have indicated that this conflicting information is confusing to them (45,800,000 * 0.56).
HELPFUL general FINDINGS
There are many sources of advice regarding food and nutrition, in relation to optimum health and weight loss. The most recent International Food Information Council Foundation survey, conducted in 2017, found that 78% of those surveyed encountered “a lot of conflicting information about what to eat” and which foods to avoid. 56% of these responded that “conflicting information makes them doubt the choices they make." Similar findings were reported back in 2014 when a US study found that 71% of those surveyed “said that they heard moderate or high levels of contradictory information about nutrition”. The study found that the more contradictory information that people were exposed to, the more confusion was expressed. Also, “[g]reater confusion was associated indirectly with backlash against nutritional advice in general”, where backlash was "defined as negative beliefs about nutrition recommendations and research". Negative beliefs on advice includes mistrust of information, so confusion and mistrust regarding health advice go hand-in-hand.
Although there were no surveys which specifically surveyed US gym-goers, a 2016 survey of UK gym-goers gives some indication of how people living in a Western, English-speaking country with similar characteristics to the US feel about fitness and medical advice. The findings concluded that a significant proportion of UK adults were “looking to unreliable sources of fitness and nutrition advice”, with 88% of respondents stating that they had “acted on advice from someone other than a professional in the past”. Although the sources of advice that respondents trusted most were health and fitness professionals (98%), other sources which may or may not be qualified to provide health advice were also trusted by people to high levels including health and fitness magazines (60%), fitness blogs and websites (57%), YouTube videos (52%) and friends and family (22%). Another UK survey, published in the Daily Mail and focused on women, found that both medical professionals and friends were the most sought-after when it came to health advice (51%) suggesting they are trusted equally. Along with these providers of personal advice, UK women also looked to the internet (49%) and social media (14%) and in general were faced with “lots of conflicting and, at times, downright confusing pieces of advice”.
In the US, the public also look to the internet for health advice. Pew Research published data in 2013, which has not been updated since, which found that “72% of internet users say they looked online for health information of one kind or another within the past year.” It seems the internet, with its vast troves of easily accessible information, contributes to the confusion and has affected the public’s trust. The New York Times reported that 34% of Americans “had great confidence in medical leaders”, compared to over three-quarters in 1966. The article also attributes the decline in trust in health advice from medical professionals to the “sometimes well-founded public perception that its key players pursue profits at the expense of patients”, with the public suspicious of those professionals offering biased advice.
Although social media is popular for users searching for “fitspiration” or weight-loss tips, users are also wary of Instagram influencers who are “being paid to shill the products they claim produce miraculous results”. Anecdotally, there is evidence that those seeking health advice often turn to the Reddit forum, where there are sub-forums devoted to fitness, weight loss, muscle gain and more niche health topics. Here Reddit users share their advice based on their personal experience and offer support to others. In addition, qualified doctors use the Ask Me Anything (AMA) platform on Reddit to answer health queries from users. One MD who has conducted two AMAs had over 2,500 comments on his post, with many more users reading the post found it an “opportunity for patients to get their information directly from a reliable source”.
Despite the limited information directly related to the theory presented, we found that a significant majority of the public are presented with lots of conflicting health advice, which leads some to become confused over which advice to follow. The conflicting advice leads to negative beliefs such as mistrust and although people may trust a number of sources, both qualified and unqualified, they can be distrustful of sources which they believe provide biased advice. As over half of the US population does some sort of exercise, but less than 1% do so competitively, we can assume that it is likely the typical casual gym-goer shares these same attitudes with the general population.