A longitudinal and comparative content analysis of Instagram fitness posts

Jacqueline Ahrens*, Fiona Brennan, Sarah Eaglesham, Audrey Buelo, Yvonne Laird, Jillian Manner, Emily Newman, Helen Sharpe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Body dissatisfaction is among the most common mental health challenges experienced by women and has been identified as a risk factor for disordered eating. Research has found that exposure to social media images depicting thin, muscular bodies, often dubbed 'fitspiration', may contribute to body dissatisfaction. Image-centred social media platforms, such as Instagram, have rising popularity among adolescents and young adults. However, little is known about the content of images produced by different fitness-related sources, such as those from fitness brands compared with individual users, and how fitness content on social media is evolving over time. This study sought to determine whether Instagram content varied between female fitness influencers and brands and how this content changed between 2019 and 2021. A longitudinal content analysis was conducted on a sample of 400 Instagram images using a coding scheme developed specifically for this project. The scheme coded images for fit ideal body depiction, fitness focus, objectification, and sexualisation. Chi-square tests indicated that female fitness influencer content was more sexualised and portrayed more of the fit ideal, while fitness brands produced more Instagram content with a fitness focus. There were no significant overall longitudinal changes for any of the four key variables. However, when looking at longitudinal changes by account type, fitness-focused influencer content increased while fitness-focused brand content decreased over time. These findings highlight discernible differences in content produced by different Instagram account types. It points future research towards the consideration of potential moderating factors, such as account type, when exploring the impact of social media images on body image and mental health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6845
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • social media
  • fitness
  • body image
  • content analysis


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