Influence of social media in nutrition and physical activity education

Author: Laura Munro

Influence of Social Media in Nutrition and Physical Activity Education

Laura Munro
24 June 2019

Munro, L. (2019). Influence of Social Media in Nutrition and Physical Activity Education. (Executive Summary of a thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Professional Practice, Otago Polytechnic)

Executive Summary

The purpose of this project is to positively influence my teaching practice by conducting a study into the impact of social media on students’ knowledge, or perception of knowledge in a nutrition and physical activity context.

In my role as Lecturer at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health (ISExH), anecdotal evidence suggests students are increasingly basing their nutrition knowledge on fast media sources, in particular, social media. Once formed, in my experience I have found it difficult to change these opinions in a classroom setting. Students are using phrases such as ‘there is strong scientific evidence” however, in my experience this ‘strong scientific evidence’ does not exist in the literature. I am lead to believe from my teaching experience this ‘scientific evidence’ is coming from fast, wide-reaching media sources.

I expected at the outset of this project to find a large proportion of students at the ISExH heavily reliant on information from media, online blogs, websites and social media rather than evidence-based scientific literature.

The teaching pedagogy at the ISExH is moving towards a project based or inquiry learning model having been through a ‘Design for Learner Success’ redevelopment process with new programmes implemented at the beginning of 2018. I identified at this time the benefit of having an understanding of what our students are basing their foundation knowledge on in a nutrition and exercise context specifically. Our aim for our students is to be critical thinking, work-ready graduates who can be confident in providing health, wellness and exercise advice to others.

The majority of ISExH students are between the ages of 18 and 25, therefore are ‘digital natives’ and social media is arguably the most natural form of communication for them. Throughout this project I began to see the benefit in using the current generations preferred media and communication channel to enhance their learning by incorporating it into our teaching practice rather than burying our head in the sand and holding onto the view that this is not appropriate academic communication.

This research project was carried out by conducting a quantitative survey of students enrolled at the ISExH. In total, 216 students were invited to take part. Thirty-three students completed the survey with an overall response rate of 15 percent. The survey results have been analysed along with anecdotal evidence I see in my everyday teaching practice and the current literature in this area.

Not only did this research help me gain an understanding of students’ views on social media, but it was instrumental in helping me develop a preferred teaching style and provide tools to use in my future practice.This project was important to provide myself and other educators an idea of what is influencing our students’ knowledge, and give some insight into how we can get students to critically reflect on the totality of evidence available in a fast-moving media world, full of hype and influential social media celebrities, especially in the area of nutrition and physical activity education.

Key words: Social Media; Nutrition Education.


The thesis is not publicly available. This Executive Summary is available under a Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International.