Faraz Jafri, MD-candidate

Nearly half of the TikTok videos on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are shared by social media influencers and have poor educational content, according to the results of a study presented at the American College of Gastroenterology Annual Scientific Meeting.

Faraz Jafri, MD-candidate, and colleagues noted that user-generated content about IBS is among the most popular health topics on TikTok.

“Posts with the #IBS have garnered 1.6 billion views, with many accounts dedicated to helping people deal with IBS,” Jafri said in a statement. “This ‘DIY’ approach to IBS has taken off on TikTok with posts regarding diet, lifestyle, medicine, and product advertisement.”

Two independent reviewers examined 100 videos under the hashtag #IBS for source, number of views, intent, and content. The researchers classified the source or entity who posted the video as influencer, lay individual, or medical professional; content categories included comedy, lifestyle and acceptability, marketing, and medical advice. Overall quality, understandability, and actionability was evaluated using The Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool for Audiovisual Materials (PEMAT-A/V) and JAMA benchmark criteria.

Despite Posting Inaccurate Content, Influencers Have ‘Significant Reach’

Almost half of the 100 videos examined by Jafri and colleagues (42%) were posted by social media influencers, while 10% were posted by medical professionals. Among the 30% of videos deemed educational, 14 were found to be factual. Nearly all (97%) of the non-educational videos were posted by non-medical professionals.

Content shared by influencers had a higher average number of shares (16,382) compared with the content shared by medical professionals (10,869). However, the average number of views was higher among medical professionals (>3.6 million) compared with videos posted by influencers (>2.9 million). The most frequent themes covered in the videos included lifestyle/acceptability (43%) and health advice (40%).

“When looking at posts from influencers, [approximately] 20% of the educational content related to IBS was found to be non-factual when fact-checked against current peer-reviewed research,” Jafri said.

However, he noted that influencers have significant reach that can be used to share public health information and to reach patient groups that lack access to care.

“While IBS is often an embarrassing topic for patients, TikTok has played an important role in normalizing IBS by providing an online support community where patients can go and share their story,” he said. “Patients can use TikTok to find helpful ‘tips and tricks’ provided by licensed medical professionals that can improve lifestyle and provide symptom relief.”