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My Patient Was Only Eating 'Girl Dinner'

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“She loves eating 'girl dinner' every night," my patient's mom proclaimed while rolling her eyes. I had asked if her 13-year-old was a picky eater at her annual well check. I was confused by what the mom meant until I remembered a recent TikTok that I had seen where a group of girls were eating nuts, popcorn, fruit, and chocolate for dinner with the words girl dinner in a sparkly font written across the video. I decided to delve further and found out that she was still hungry but would only eat these snacks for dinner every day since all her friends only ate a “girl dinner.”

As I looked at her growth chart, it suddenly made sense why she had lost weight since her last appointment and always felt tired. During that appointment, I took the time to sit down alone with her and explain the importance of nutrition and paying attention to her hunger cues. As I walked out of the room, I wondered what would have happened if I had not come across those TikTok videos glorifying "girl dinner." Would I have stopped to think about her mom’s answer to my question?

We live in a world where we cannot ignore the prevalence of social media. Teenagers are spending more time behind a screen every day. The Pew Research Center reported that 67% of surveyed teenagers reported using TikTok and 62% were using Instagram in 2022. We have been aware of posts and comments on social media impacting people’s subconscious for several years; however, Instagram Reels and TikToks create a whole new playing field where people’s attention is easier to grab. I am also guilty of losing track of time while scrolling through my Instagram or TikTok feed. While it is easy to laugh and blow off some of the videos I see, I cannot ignore the fact that these videos are influencing the choices teenagers and adults make every day. Don’t know about girl dinner? What about mouth taping, dry scooping, or milk crate jumping? These are just a few more of the trends in recent years that have taken off on social media that could lead to serious injuries or negative side effects that people are largely unaware of. Many parents are unaware that these are trends that their kids may be scrolling through every day.

As a pediatrician, I feel the responsibility to keep up to date on certain trends that are making their way around social media so I can educate patients about the dangers of certain trends and have open conversations. The first step to educating yourself is to be on the platform itself. Make sure you scroll through the Discover page and see what’s out there. Using hashtags such as #trendalert and #healthtrends always leads me down a rabbit hole of viral videos that can provide a lot of information in a short amount of time. Doctors have also taken to social media and some of the top influencers are doctors in the medical field. Scrolling through the comments on videos posted by @ladyspinedoc and @dr.tommymartin has taught me a lot about how patients perceive the medical field and their beliefs regarding new therapies or medications.

Teenagers are often amazed that I know about certain trends and are more willing to listen to what I am saying, rather than feeling like they are being lectured. I sometimes talk to older attendings about trends on social media and I am often met with eye rolls and grumbling comments about what a waste of time social media is. This attitude can be detrimental to providing comprehensive care for patients. We have the privilege to educate patients and inform parents of the dangers of some of these trends that they might be coming across on social media, and we cannot just ignore it.

Reels and TikToks are not going anywhere any time soon and even the videos that may seem harmless can have an underlying message that can lead to negative practices in daily life. We cannot expect everyone to critically think about each thing they see on social media and not let themselves be unconsciously affected. We must accept that social media exists and educate ourselves on the information that is present so we can provide better care to our patients.

What's a TikTok trend you've talked with your patients about? Share in the comments.

Ashna is a pediatrics resident at the University of Michigan. Her interests include food allergy, medical education, and providing comprehensive care to patients especially with low socioeconomic status.

Illustration by Diana Connolly

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