Background: Fitspiration is a social media phenomenon purported to inspire viewers to lead healthier lifestyles but can result in negative psychological outcomes such as body dissatisfaction. This study aimed to develop a tool to audit Instagram fitspiration accounts and screen for content that could have potentially negative psychological effects.
Methods: This study developed and implemented an audit tool to (1) identify credible fitspiration accounts (i.e., accounts that do not portray potentially harmful or unhealthy content) and (2) describe the content of identified accounts. The most recent 15 posts of 100 leading Instagram fitspiration accounts were audited. Accounts were deemed non-credible and were excluded if they contained fewer than four fitness-related posts or portrayed nudity or inappropriate clothing, sexualisation or objectification, extreme body types, “thinspiration”, or negative messages.
Results: Many accounts contained fewer than four fitness-related posts (n = 41), sexualisation or objectification (n = 26), nudity or inappropriate clothing (n = 22), and/or extreme body types (n = 15). Three accounts failed on all four criteria, while 13, 10 and 33 failed on three, two, or one criterion, respectively. Therefore, only 41% of accounts were considered credible. Inter-rater reliability (percentage agreement and Brennan and Prediger’s coefficient κq) was high (Stage 1: 92% agreement [95% CI 87, 97], κq 0.84 [95% CI 0.73, 0.95]; Stage 2: 93% agreement [95% CI 83, 100], κq 0.85 [95% CI 0.67, 1.00]). Account holders of credible fitspiration accounts were predominantly female (59%), aged 25–34 (54%), Caucasian (62%), and from the United States (79%). Half held a qualification related to physical activity or physical health (e.g., personal trainer, physiotherapy; 54%). Most included accounts included an exercise video (93%) and example workout (76%).
Conclusion: While many popular Instagram fitspiration accounts offered credible content such as example workouts, many accounts contained sexualisation, objectification or promotion of unhealthy or unrealistic body shapes. The audit tool could be used by Instagram users to ensure the accounts they follow do not portray potentially harmful or unhealthy content. Future research could use the audit tool to identify credible fitspiration accounts and examine whether exposure to these accounts positively influences physical activity.
- Content analysis
- Social media