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Studies: Misconceptions on hormonal contraception spread on social media

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An author of one study says young people are especially vulnerable to social media influencers on platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

Researchers reveal that social influencers are sharing unsubstantiated claims about the side effects of some birth control methods ranging from infertility to depression.

Using hormonal contraception like birth control pills and intrauterine devices can come with side effects, though most doctors say the risk of severe problems is low. 

But in a new report published in the journal, Health Communication, researchers found that a growing number of social media influencers are telling followers that hormonal contraception causes issues ranging from depression to weight gain.

Researcher Emily Pfender says about 70% of those influencers promote lifestyle and wellness topics.

"A common discussion among content creators is they are discontinuing their hormonal contraceptive and starting less effective nonhormonal options and they are advocating for the discontinuation of hormonal contraception,” Pfender said. 

The report’s authors say the false or misleading health claims are concerning, given that social media is the primary way most young people access information about sexual health. 

And after the overturning of Roe v. Wade two years ago,some health professionals say such behaviors may contribute to unintended pregnancies.

Pfender says young people are especially vulnerable to social media influencers on platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

"When there's a high connection and high-perceived similarities between the person viewing and the influencer, people are more likely to take their advice and to alter their behaviors" Pfender said.

Pfender says more influencers are reporting that they've stopped using birth control pills or injectable devices due to unsubstantiated claims about health issues.

But professional organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say today’s hormonal contraceptive options are both safe and effective.

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Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.