What Does Social Media Say About Our Diet?

Posting food pictures on social media has become a bit of a fad. Whether you find it strange or perfectly normal to upload pictures of your meal on the Internet, there’s a good chance that you can find at least one food picture or video in your social media news feed right now with little effort. With the abundance of food posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you have to wonder what social media says about our diet. A study from the University of Utah examined which foods were most talked about on social media.

Study lists the most popular food tweets on Twitter

Researchers from the University of Utah sorted through  a random sampling of 80 million Twitter messages from between mid-2014 to mid-2015. Of these tweets, 4 million were about food. They examined whether the messages pertained to healthy or unhealthy foods, and compiled a list of most popular food tweets,

According to the study, the most common food tweets in the U.S. during this period were coffee, beer, and then pizza, in that order. In fact, the top 6 posts were all about alcohol, coffee, or pizza.

Chicken was number 7 on the list most popular food tweets, and the only food considered healthy in the top ten.

Here’s the list of most popular food-related posts on Twitter according to the University of Utah study:

  1. Coffee
  2. Beer
  3. Pizza
  4. Starbucks
  5. IPA (beer)
  6. Wine
  7. Chicken
  8. BBQ
  9. Ice Cream
  10. Tacos

Does this list say anything about the way Americans eat?

One of the most interesting bits of information came from cross-referencing the tweets with information about the neighborhoods that the tweets came from. Poor neighborhoods and larger households were less likely to tweet about healthy foods. Neighborhoods with a high number of fast food restaurants were more likely to tweet about fast food.

There are a few issues with the study that the lead author of the study acknowledges, however. For example, Twitter users tend to be between the ages of 18 and 49, representing a small fraction of the population. Also, the random sampling represented just one percent of available tweets, and the algorithm used to categorize tweets operated at 85% accuracy.

You also have to keep in mind that social media isn’t always an accurate depiction of our lives. If you only post pictures of your outdoor adventures, you will look like an outdoor enthusiast, even if you only get outside three or four times a year. Similarly, if you only tweet about pizza and beer, it appears as though you eat only unhealthy foods.

There’s also the fact that people might be inclined to share some foods on social media over others. It’s possible that people don’t get as excited about eating healthy. Who wouldn’t want to gloat about their piping hot pizza and ice cold beer? Maybe people can’t get jazzed about posting their healthy snack with the hashtag “#carrotsandcelery”.

What to take away from a list of most popular food tweets

Trending food terms don’t necessarily indicate the eating habits of Americans, but they might give insight to how Americans view food.

If this list does reflect eating habits, diets need to change. A diet of nothing but coffee, pizza, and beer would lead to a laundry list of health problems.

However, if the list reflects a love and excitement for unhealthy foods, and a bitter reluctance for healthy foods, that should change as well. We should get excited about healthy eating. A healthy and nutritious diet is fundamental to good health, and social media can exert some positive peer pressure. When you share your meals on social media, brag about your healthy eating habits!