Peer-to-Peer Social Media Communication About Dietary Supplements Used for Weight Loss and Sports Performance Among Military Personnel: Pilot Content Analysis of 11 Years of Posts on Reddit

JMIR Form Res. 2021 Oct 4;5(10):e28957. doi: 10.2196/28957.


Background: Over 60% of military personnel in the United States currently use dietary supplements. Two types of dietary supplements, weight loss and sports performance (WLSP) supplements, are commonly used by military personnel despite the associated serious adverse effects such as dehydration and stroke.

Objective: To understand peer-to-peer communication about WLSP supplements among military personnel, we conducted a pilot study using the social media website, Reddit.

Methods: A total of 64 relevant posts and 243 comments from 2009 to 2019 were collected from 6 military subreddits. The posts were coded for year of posting, subreddit, and content consistent with the following themes: resources about supplement safety and regulation, discernability of supplement use through drug testing, serious adverse effects, brand names or identifiers, and reasons for supplement use.

Results: A primary concern posted by personnel who used supplements was uncertainty about the supplements that were not detectable on a drug test. Supplements to improve workout performance were the most frequently used.

Conclusions: Our pilot study suggests that military personnel may seek out peer advice about WLSP supplements on Reddit and spread misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of these products through this platform. Future directions for the monitoring of WLSP supplement use in military personnel are discussed.

Keywords: OPSS; Reddit; dietary supplements; social media.