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Who is influencing you?

In this post we look at the most influential people in health and fitness…and question if they are the people you really want to be influenced by?

A little while ago, I was catching up on news in my email inbox, and I found this, a list of The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness. I spent some time reading the list, and I was delighted to see some people on there who are positive influences on me, like the excellent Mark Sisson, and the dependable blogger Yoni Freedhoff, and the personal development guru Tony Robbins.

I was delighted to see some of the people I go to for learning, such as the always-brilliant Robb Wolf, the writer I aspire to emulate, Michael Pollan, and the excellent Natalie Jill who makes fitness so easy and approachable for so many people.

So I think there are some great people on this list, there is Dr Mark Hyman, the ever-inspirational Arnold Schwarzenegger, nutrition guru Gary Taubes and the highly agreeable Josh Axe. I am pleased to find two people on the list that I have actually met and shaken hands with.

But I also find some things about this list rather alarming. I decided to look at what skills it takes to become one of the most influential people on Earth in health and fitness. The article defines how they compiled the list -

“A note about our methodology: This list is intended to highlight people who had the greatest impact and reach in health and wellness—they’re not necessarily people we personally endorse.

The order is determined by a long list of criteria. We started with a list of nearly 300 individuals nominated by the Greatist staff and Greatist ambassador network. We then created a scoring system based on the following categories: followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube; studies published; professional degrees and certifications; number of Google News mentions; number of products created (including starring TV and film roles); brand partnerships; and an estimate of how much each person’s career focuses on fitness and health.

We purposefully excluded most health care executives, professional athletes, and spiritual leaders, unless we felt they strongly contributed to health, fitness, or mental health.”

I ran some counts down the list, not exactly scientific, but the best I could do in just an hour or so, and I counted that the list includes, roughly, the following:

  • Celebrities who originally came to fame for nothing to do with health or fitness: 27
  • Models, actors, socialites, writers (including professional health writers) and former athletes: 24
  • Doctors: 7
  • People openly and frequently referred to as quacks: 14
  • ‘Hot babes’ and ‘fit hunks’: 61
  • People I have never heard of, despite my 28 years interest in health and fitness: 17
  • Based in the UK (or Europe, for that matter): 4 (maybe 5)
  • Primary teaching is fitness/weight loss/build muscle, rather than ‘health’ (such as disease prevention, longevity, vitality): 47
  • Appear to be unhealthily over weight or out of shape (let’s say ‘less than optimal body composition’): 4
  • Professional Trainer or qualified yoga instructor: 37
  • Teaches about politics of food and health: 1

Now obviously a few of my counts might be subject to personal opinion, like who is or is not overweight, and who is or is not considered a quack! But in general, what observations can we take from this list? Well, I see a few things here:

  1. If you want to be influential in global health and fitness, in the English-speaking world, you need to be a hot babe or a muscle-bound hunk, as it seems a 6-pack and good looks will get you further than a PhD in Nutrition.
  2. In general, people follow good-looking actors, yoga instructors and former athletes in far greater numbers than they follow doctors.
  3. The best way to be influential in this area is to be a good-looking Personal Trainer with a great body, and publish an exercise program and weight loss plan, in book and online format!
  4. Apparently, outside of North America, most of the rest of the world doesn’t exist.
  5. Being physically ‘hot’ is still the #1 criteria for being popular in health and fitness. Apparently, sex still sells, abs win the day.
  6. I find it interesting, and frustrating, and saddening, that only one person who talks and writes about the politics and economics of our food system ranks in this list. Because I know, that one person probably is the one on this whole list who is actually closest to offering the best solutions to our global obesity epidemic.
  7. It’s a sad shame there is not one single person on this list who works in agriculture.
  8. It’s a concern that there is not one single government official, politician or policy-maker on this list. There is not one CEO of a food company. Not one farmer. Not one CEO of an agricultural company. Not one farming Union boss. Not one government minister. Not one Education Secretary or minister. So the people who actually make our food, make laws that regulate our food, the people who decide broadly what food is available in our shops, the people who advise entire populations what to eat, who give doctors the food guidelines they recommend to patients, the people who grow our food, make our food and sell us our food - none of these people are market influencers at all.
  9. And how was the list compiled? Number of mentions on Google News, combined with social media presence, social media followers, qualifications, published research and range of branded products available in the market place. This methodology counts ‘published research papers’ and Google News hits…which are clearly completely drowned out by hot-looking former athletes selling diet plans on social media.

Essentially, then, you can get your PhD and publish research reports, in the hopes that your work may inform policy-makers and doctors. But the reality is, when it comes to influencing the general public, neither the PhD, nor the medical doctor, nor the policy maker, is being listened to. Increasingly, the public are losing trust in medical doctors and academics. Instead, the general public overwhelmingly take their health and fitness advice from muscle-bound Personal Trainers online selling one-size-fits-all diet plans to help people lose weight and get visible abs.

Twice as many quacks show on the list as qualified doctors, and being good looking seems to be the number one criteria to success.

Frankly, it’s no wonder we are in such a mess!

What do you think?

To your good health!


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