Vanderburg: Health and fitness influencer versus expert


Social media has changed the way we gather information and content on just about any topic today! The question is how does today’s consumer know who to trust? Is the information you are getting from the most popular people on social media correct? Can it be trusted? Is it potentially harmful? It ultimately comes down to whether the information is based on knowledge as in “expert” advise in the field or an opinion based on popularity or “influencer.”

Social media “influencers” typically have a large following, and therefore, can affect trends. In many topic areas, such as posting about fashion, events, favourite recipes and home decor, influencing a large number of people is harmless. However, when it comes to giving advice on diet, exercise and fitness, they are stepping into the serious topics of health and well-being. In this case, giving people poor advice can lead to injury, poor nutrition, ill health, physical and psychological issues.

You would never take advice from a social media influencer on what drugs to take for an illness. So why would you take advice on how to get and stay healthy from an untrained professional?

Posting pictures of good abs in the mirror has become the standard of measuring expertise in fitness on social media. In other words, if you look good, take great photos, have mastered photo filters and share advise on how you got to look this amazing, people will follow. This reflects nothing about expertise or qualification. This is not to say there aren’t some highly qualified fitness experts that are influencers on social media. You just need to know how to filter out the experts from the others.

A recent study conducted in the U.K. on social media influencers revealed the majority of information shared online in the areas of weight management did not have credible content. In fact, the majority of the most popular health and fitness influencers, with over 80,000 followers, had no expertise in their topic area and were sharing opinions rather than valid content.

The highest standard of credentials are a university degree or college diploma in the area of expertise and the appropriate registration. In Canada, the leading accreditation organization is NFLCA; National Fitness Leadership Association of Canada and CESP; the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, which provides national and provincial standards for recognition as a fitness professional. In Alberta, the provincial certification organization is the AFLCA, Alberta Fitness Leadership Certification Association. As well as the national certification organization, CanFitPro.

In the U.S. and North America, the most respected certification organizations are ACE; American Council on Exercise, ACSM; American College of Sports Medicine, AFAA; Athletic and Fitness Association of America, NASM; National Academy of Sport Medicine and NCCPT; National Council on Strength and Fitness.

It has become incredibly popular for anyone and everyone to jump on the bandwagon of fitness. Influencers versus experts is happening online, as well as, in live workouts around the globe. Studio owners, franchise fitness chains and clubs are hiring people based on their social media following and their attractiveness versus their credentials. The instructor teaching your favourite class may not be a certified fitness professional. They may just look good and have an energetic personality!

It is easy to get fooled by fit bodies on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and every other social platform. It is compelling to believe that what you see is what you will get. Know that this is more about engagement than education. If you are serious about your health and fitness, look for expertise and credentials when you are following people’s advice on health-related topics. Do some social media stalking and find out if they are a certified fitness professional, a certified health coach, nutritionist or a registered dietitian. Health and fitness recommendations and guidelines are continually being updated. Be smart and use critical thinking the next time someone shares their favourite YouTube celebrity trainer with you!

Helen Vanderburg, co-owner of Heavens Elevated Fitness, Yoga and Spin Studio, is the author of Fusion Workouts, and a motivational speaker. Find her at and Find her online at and Follow her on Facebook/ helenvanderburg, Instagram: @hvanderburg                              


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