How to Spot and Debunk a Dangerous Health Fad
Widespread cultural investment in health and wellness, as well as a preoccupation with weight and beauty, has given birth to a global industry valued at over $4.4 trillion. While not every product and regimen related to health and beauty is a con, it is important to keep in mind that many of these products are not regulated by the FDA, and it is easy for companies to prey on these deeply ingrained cultural insecurities.
Furthermore, while many harmful health fads are started as a marketing effort to sell a product, dangerous health fads can also organically spring up among the general public as a result of our cultural desperation. And therefore, while making the connection of a pipeline to profit is a good indicator that a health fad is unsubstantiated, it is not necessarily a required determining factor.
The products, services, and regimens that prey on and profit off of the public’s pursuit of health and beauty vary widely. They include everything from supplements to ointments to eating regimens to self-help books to blogs. And determining which are good options and which are not is a nightmare in a world where any attempt to find health information brings down the digital and social equivalent of a flood of salesmen yelling and waving brochures in your face.
As such, while it is ultimately the responsibility of every individual to do their own research about how to manage their own health, it can understandably feel overwhelming. And while there is no foolproof method for navigating this madness, there are a few good rules of thumb that can guide you along the way.
Quick Fixes and Over-Promising Claims
If nothing else, when assessing the validity of a health trend, consider the adage: “if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” If a product or trend is claiming that you can get dramatic results within an usually short amount of time, it is probably guilty of over-promising, misrepresenting the results, or omitting other important disclaimers. For example, a fad diet may promote the ability to lose six pounds in a week (three times the recommended healthy limit for a week’s weight loss), but may fail to mention that this is largely due to dehydration or a severe caloric deficit that eliminates important nutrients from your diet.
If you want to avoid becoming a victim of misinformation and predatory marketing when it comes to health and beauty, you will need to accept that truly healthy, sustainable results in these realms will take long-term work and dedication. One of the only options for getting quick results without courting dangerous side effects in this arena is the use of plastic surgery through an accredited, reputable physician. However, even when it comes to this option, you have to go in with a healthy mindset if you want to achieve long-term wellness and peace of mind.
Options like minor laser resurfacing to eliminate acne scars, breast reduction to reduce back pain, and eyelid surgery to improve vision can truly improve your mental and physical wellness. However, you need to make sure that you approach these options as life-enhancing measures rather than a physical and emotional crutch. For example, while liposuction and a tummy tuck can be a great option for people who are recovering from severe obesity, it won’t benefit your progress at all if you can’t develop good habits to ensure that you won’t relapse. Therefore, even the few quick fixes that are legitimate are not truly quick fixes, because they require dedication and good habits to maintain results.
Pointing to a Single Thing to Blame
Fad diets often point to a single culprit that is to blame for all of your health woes, such as a single type of food, or even a conveniently scary-sounding chemical. However, in general, unless the singular culprit is an overconsumption of calories or overconsumption of food groups per FDA or doctor recommendations, this is probably a dishonest oversimplification. This is particularly the case if this product or regimen seems to cure anything and everything, from large pores to cancer.
The healthiest approach for wellness is typically a relatively simple and holistic approach. Ultimately, you should strive for moderation when it comes to unhealthy behavior such as consumption of high-calorie foods or alcohol, and find achievable ways to incorporate a variety of healthy elements into your daily routine, such as a well-rounded fitness regimen and meal plan.
It is important to keep in mind that even often-demonized items can have very real benefits in moderation. For example, many fad diets recommend the complete elimination of carbohydrates from your diet. However, carbohydrates play an important role in our bodily functions, especially as it pertains to the energy supply for your brain and muscles.
Anecdotal Evidence and Lack of Scientific Research
It is typically a red flag if the only evidence you can find is anecdotal, and even more so if this anecdotal evidence is coming from people who stand to profit from your investment in the fad. Furthermore, it is fairly common for those who are profiting to misrepresent research or information or to pay others to do so for them.
So even if you do find some research that seems promising, it is in your best interest to compare this information against publications from highly reputable resources such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Mayo Clinic. As in all health matters, your general physician is another great resource you can use to double-check and verify information.
Suspicious or Predatory Promotion
As we have already touched on, it is always a good idea to consider whether someone is profiting from the fad, directly or indirectly. This profit can take many forms, including:
- Direct sale of health or beauty products;
- Sale of books or magazines that promote the product;
- Affiliate promotion of the product through blog posts or social media;
- Promotion of a product controlled by a specific industry;
- Demonization of a product controlled by a specific industry (negative marketing);
- Promotion of a fad that requires or recommends pricey accessories;
- Subscriptions or payment plans.
One of the more common avenues of predatory promotion is through influencer marketing. Typically, this involves an influencer claiming that they use the product and have received great results. This is a very enticing marketing strategy because these people are often highly admired and may be unusually good-looking. However, in reality, these good looks that the influencer is implying were found in a bottle or “exotic” food group are more likely the result of a combination of genetics, filters, rhinoplasty, or even a butt lift. It is important to keep in mind that this is meant to feed into your insecurities so that you want to believe that a $10 face mask and some hummus are all you need to look more like them.