Opinion | Viral ‘health hacks’ are more harmful than good

Viral health trends on social media that do more harm than good.


Chris, Klepach

Not everyone on TikTok is a health care provider, but anyone on the app can claim they are.

This unsolicited information can have negative ramifications on young platform users.

There are healthy trends on TikTok that promote positive behavior, but the platform also contains unhealthy trends.

TikTok is infamous for spreading “health hacks”: unconventional recipes or lifestyle changes with the purpose of improving one’s own personal health. But not all trends have merit.

In January, the “Nyquil Chicken” or “#SleepyChicken” challenge went viral. This trend involved taking a chicken and cooking it in liquid cough medicine. Posts that encouraged this behavior claimed eating the meal would put you to sleep.

While many of the posts were ironic, videos sprouted of people trying to cook the dish. This challenge resulted in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration releasing a statement in September discouraging the practice.

“Boiling a medication can make it much more concentrated and change its properties in other ways,” the FDA wrote. “Even if you don’t eat the chicken, inhaling the medication’s vapors while cooking could cause high levels of the drugs to enter your body. It could also hurt your lungs.”

Trends like this are dangerous to the health of young platform users.

According to Statista, 25 percent of the user base were found to be aged 10 to 19 years-old in the U.S. That makes them the largest age demographic on the platform.

Anyone can call themselves a medical expert on the platform. Commenters and creators can claim that challenges with health risks are safe without knowledge to back it up. This comes with severe consequences.

In July, a lawsuit was filed against TikTok by the parents of two children under the age of 9 who died after following a TikTok trend. The parents alleged that the algorithm directed their children to a fatal “blackout challenge.” This challenge encouraged participants to choke each other until they passed out. The lawsuit is not yet settled.

However, there are also positive health trends on TikTok worth promoting. The “Hot Girl Walk,” started by Mia Lind, shows the benefits of walking and self-affirming positivity. The trend asks participants to walk two to four miles daily while listening to positive music. It’s named the “Hot Girl Walk” because participants are encouraged to think about themselves positively using three ideas:

“One: things you’re grateful for. Two: your goals and how you’re going to achieve them. Three: how hot you are,” Lind said in a post.

A brisk walk provides health benefits when done regularly, according to the Mayo Clinic. Among many advantages, walking can help you maintain healthy body weight and improve cardiovascular fitness.

It is important to remember that not everyone on TikTok is a health care provider. Giving clout to these types of challenges could have negative health ramifications on more vulnerable users, like the 25 percent of users under the age of 19 who consume content on the platform.

While there are positive trends, it appears that more dangerous ones garner the most attention. Those with young relatives should be aware of what type of content they’re seeing on TikTok.

Next time you or your little sibling see a flashy health hack from TikTok, do some research first.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.