CELEBRITY HEALTH WARNING
Celebrities are used to sell all sorts of products, but when it comes to health products, are they abusing their position with claims that just can’t be substantiated?
The cult of celebrity is big business. People fork out millions every week to buy newspapers and magazine to read about them, we buy their eau de toilette ranges, the clothes that they wear and often assume them to be the ultimate arbiters of style and taste.
It may all be a fairly harmless way of parting us from excessive amounts of cash, but when it comes to health and beauty, is this ethical or even safe? For years celebrities have been recruited to not only put a face to a product or service, but also, in some cases, a voice.
Whether what they say is factual or not, many of us don’t even stop to consider. After all, if some megastar keeps her porcelain skin wrinkle-free with that new organic skin cream, you’d be crazy not to try it, right? It’s natural for people to want to be more like those they admire. So when a celebrity talks about how a product has improved their health in some way or another, many people are more likely to take notice of them rather then a boring scientist or doctor who has years of experience in research and practice.
But increasingly celebrities have come under attack for making claims that are not backed by proven evidence, both online amongst their fans and in the press.
A well-known example of this is Gwyneth Paltrow and her company Goop. Goop’s products have been debunked on multiple occasions as having no scientific basis for their various claimed health benefits. In fact, in 2018 Goop was reported to the regulatory authorities in the UK, for stating on its website that there is ‘little evidence to support the (many) claims that sunscreen helps prevent cancer.’ And, in the same year, agreed to pay $145,000 to settle a lawsuit about the deceptive health claims it had stated for its vaginal eggs. These had been claimed to be able to balance hormones and regulate menstrual cycles, among other things, if inserted into oneself. Scientists have dismissed the scientific basis of Goop’s claims on numerous occasions – stating that they have no conclusive evidence.
There is a particular danger in making a choice about our health without first considering all options and questioning what we hear. Just because celebrities are high profile, does not mean they are experts on health. Yet we probably question the advice of our own GP more often than we ask whether our favourite celebrity’s formula for health and vitality is a load of rot.
So what can one do? Well, to begin with, it is good to get a better understanding of the health world and more particularly, health advice. And to educate oneself with recommendations from scientists and professionals in the field, not celebrities.
For example, Professor Les Irwig, Judy Irwig, Dr Lyndal Trevena and Melissa Sweet wrote a book entitled ‘Smart Health Choices’ (Hammersmith Press), which focuses specifically on health advice. Though slightly dated, this book arms the reader with a healthy scepticism as well as the tools for evaluating the messages they’re confronted with on a regular basis, whether those messages come from a specialist, general practitioner, naturopath, the media, the internet or a well-intentioned friend or family member.
For instance, what’s the best way to unravel the scientific jargon used by health product advertisers? How can you tell the difference between a good, solid clinical study and a poor one?
‘Smart Health Choices’ highlights why some health advice may be misleading and offers ways to identify meaningful health claims and research, and explains why it can sometimes be unwise to rely on the opinions of experts. It also shows the reader how to make the right health decisions by asking the right questions.
The five most important of these are:
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