Harvard Health Ad Watch: When marketing puts your health at risk

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The objective of promoting is, after all, to catch your consideration and promote you a product. However on the subject of health-related merchandise, inaccuracies in promoting could be detrimental to your well being.

Maybe you’ve seen a Vitamin Water advert not too long ago that touts the well being advantages of Vitamin Water whereas seeming to discourage getting a flu shot as out of style. It initially appeared in 2011 however has mysteriously resurfaced on-line. The textual content of the advert states, “Flu pictures are so final 12 months,” and subheadings add “extra vitamin C, extra immunity, much less snotty tissues.” The typical buyer seeing this advert might conclude that flu pictures aren’t so nice — in actual fact, that Vitamin Water is healthier for you than flu pictures (and likewise higher than getting the flu).

Vitamin Water received’t assist in opposition to flu

I’ve to confess, the advert does catch your consideration. However’s it’s an unlucky and probably harmful strategy for quite a few causes:

  • The flu killed an estimated 61,000 individuals within the US throughout the 2017–18 flu season (a file, in accordance with the CDC) and as much as 646,000 individuals worldwide; the flu shot might forestall many of those deaths.
  • The flu shot is advisable yearly — that’s as a result of the strains of the influenza virus change annually and the vaccination is modified accordingly.
  • There’s a giant and rising “anti-vax” marketing campaign that falsely argues that the dangers of vaccinations far outweigh their advantages; this not solely poses a menace to those that forego vaccination and turn out to be sick with the flu, but in addition to these with whom contaminated individuals come into contact.

I’m not the one one who took subject with this Vitamin Water marketing campaign. The Nationwide Customers League requested the Federal Commerce Fee to ban the unique advertisements, calling them “dangerously deceptive.”

After which there’s the added sugar

Vitamin Water is considered one of many merchandise whose title suggests well being advantages or well being benefits in contrast with its rivals, but their dietary content material could also be much less wholesome than you’d anticipate.

Learn the label for Vitamin Water carefully and also you’ll see that it accommodates

  • 26 grams of sugar; that’s equal to greater than six teaspoons of sugar, and greater than half of the advisable allowance of carbs in a day
  • no protein or fiber
  • “substances sourced from genetically engineered crops (generally generally known as GMOs).”

True, Vitamin Water has 25% of the day by day suggestion for Vitamin A and 100% of Nutritional vitamins C, B6, and B12 — however the overwhelming majority of individuals don’t have any hassle getting loads of these vitamins within the meals they eat.

Regardless of its title, there’s no apparent well being benefit to getting nutritional vitamins together with the empty energy in Vitamin Water. Eat an orange as an alternative when you’re looking for vitamin C — at the very least it has some fiber. And when you’re actually anxious you aren’t getting what you want out of your food regimen, take an ordinary multivitamin — and see your physician.

After all, you possibly can select the zero-calorie model of Vitamin Water (and I do take pleasure in Vitamin Water Zero once in a while). However you then’re consuming the non-nutrient sweeteners, stevia and erythritol, the professionals and cons of which we will debate one other day.

Extremely marketed dietary supplements and diets versus confirmed therapies

For years, I’ve seen advertisements in my Sunday newspapers and elsewhere recommending all types of unproven therapies in lieu of well-studied, well-established, FDA-approved drugs which have been confirmed to avoid wasting lives. Examples embrace dietary supplements and diets that declare to decrease blood strain or remedy arthritis with out drugs. Whereas food regimen is a vital a part of hypertension remedy, drugs are usually prescribed for individuals who have already tried unsuccessfully to decrease their blood strain with nonmedication approaches. It’s probably harmful to recommend that you would be able to cease blood strain drugs, as some glowing testimonials recommend — particularly when you accomplish that with no monitoring.

And I’ve seen many advertisements that proclaim, “Right here’s a secure and all-natural remedy on your situation that your physician doesn’t need you to learn about.” I don’t know any docs who’re protecting efficient therapies secret. It’s an unfounded and cynical declare to recommend your physician doesn’t have your greatest pursuits at coronary heart. In the meantime, the individuals utilizing these gross sales techniques drive a wedge between docs and sufferers in an effort to advertise unproven well being merchandise.

The underside line

You might argue {that a} affordable particular person ought to know that the Vitamin Water advert is just not advocating for anybody to skip their flu shot and that it’s only a technique to promote their product. I disagree. Affordable persons are consistently bombarded with a torrent of misinformation. It may be arduous to know which sources to consider. Downplaying the danger of skipping flu pictures can have devastating penalties throughout a inhabitants.

Advertising works. However I believe health-related advertising and marketing needs to be held to greater requirements than advertisements for garments, vehicles, or furnishings. Advertisers ought to tread rigorously on the subject of well-studied therapies confirmed to avoid wasting lives. And till influenza is eradicated as a yearly well being danger, it’s irresponsible and, sure, harmful to liken flu pictures to an out-of-fashion pattern simply to promote a sugary drink.

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