2 min

Questionable Health Trend for Teenagers?

The project FIVE explores how the hashtag #fitspiration impacts gender stereotypes, health behaviours and body awareness of young people

Questionable Health Trend for Teenagers?

The goal is to create an online course based on the project’s findings that enables teenagers to develop a critical and conscious approach to social media.


fitspiration is a global health trend in social media. The image platform Instagram alone offers approximately 20 million posts with the hashtag.

At first glance, it seems that the health trend behind #fitspiration is aimed at motivating people to adopt a healthier lifestyle. However, #fitspiration often tends to preach extreme and unbalanced training or nutrition habits, while communicating very one-sided gender norms at the same time.

Adolescents in particular are strongly represented in social media and use these channels to obtain information about various topics. The project “FIVE ─ #Fitspiration Image VErification“ examines the influences of #fitspiration on the gender identities, health behaviours, and body images of these young people as well as the psychological implications they might have.

“Teenagers use social media excessively – not only to communicate with friends, for entertainment and as a platform to present themselves but also as a source of health information and to find a common identity. This means that social media have an essential impact on both health and consumption behaviours and young people’s perception of themselves. This is where our project comes in. The purpose of FIVE is to find out what makes teenagers follow the hashtag #fitspiration. Which body images, role models and recommendations for health and fitness are shared? How strong is the impact of influencers, and what is users’ image of them and their marketing strategies? FIVE strives to get to the bottom of the phenomenon and find out how #fitspiration shapes nutrition and exercise behaviours, people’s perception of their own bodies, and gender norms”, explains FH-Prof. Mag. Dr. Elisabeth Höld, project lead and Senior Researchers at the Institute of Health Sciences at the St. Pölten UAS.

A Tool for Teenagers to Detect Image Manipulation

Based on the insights gained, an interdisciplinary online course for upper secondary school pupils is to be designed in collaboration with schools in Vienna and Lower Austria. A central elements is the development of a target group-oriented tool for forensic image analysis. After all, currently available tools are not suitable for teaching pupils about image forensics and the detection of manipulation and how the authenticity of an image can be ascertained.

FIVE aims to close this knowledge gap and provide adolescents with an image analysis tool that they can use on their own to detect manipulated images, especially under the hashtag #fitspiration. The tool will be integrated into the online course as an easy-to-use fact checking service. The goal of the online course is to enable young people to encounter images and health information in social media with a critical and conscious mindset.

“It has become extremely hard to find out whether an image in social media is real or not, especially for teenagers. Both digital tools such as Photoshop and automatic filter methods available on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are easy to handle and make it hard to distinguish between an original photograph and a manipulated one. We believe that teenagers should be taught the confident handling of digital media as part of their school education and learning materials”, says Mag. Ulrike Zdimal-Lang from the publishing company Hölzel.

Online Course: Taking a Glimpse behind the Scenes of Social Media

Another objective is to make teenagers recognise the clever marketing model behind many influencers’ representation in social media that is designed to sell food supplements or sportswear. Moreover, the course provides information on gender and diversity in an age-appropriate manner in collaboration with schools in Vienna and Lower Austria.

“The images portrayed in social media frequently reproduce outdated gender-specific stereotypes and create health and beauty ideals that are virtually impossible to achieve and cater to a certain body type. By making adolescents aware of this, FIVE tries to counteract the often one-sided and exaggerated expectations towards looks and fitness perpetuated by #fitspiration, thereby making a scientifically grounded contribution to young people’s health”, emphasises Dr. Bettina Prokop, the project’s gender expert.

About FIVE – #Fitspiration Image VErification

The interdisciplinary project FIVE is carried out by the St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences (as the project lead) together with the publishing company Hölzel and gender expert Bettina Prokop. The project is financed by the FemTech division of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG).

Further information on the project is available here

You want to know more? Feel free to ask!
Mag. Sito Maja, BA

Mag. Maja Sito, BA

Expert Corporate Communications
Marketing and Communications
FH-Prof. Mag. Dr. Höld Elisabeth

FH-Prof. Mag. Dr. Elisabeth Höld

Senior Researcher Institute of Health Sciences Department of Health Sciences