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How to Spot Wellness Scams

Apr 26, 2024

Wellness Scams Everywhere

While I was on Youtube this week I saw an ad that caught my interest. ‘The secret to solving back pain.’ I like to know what professionals in the industry are saying, so I followed the link. I’m not sure what I expected, but the ‘secret’ to back pain as it turns out is the tired myth that bad posture causes pain and the solution is a special program of exercises. I’m not going to go through the trouble of dismantling the myth of posturology again. If you want to open up that can of worms you can watch my breakdown here.

Beware the Simple Solution

Pain is complicated and there is usually more going on than bad posture. But, the wellness world is filled with people ready to simplify pain to the point that it has a neat and simple solution (a solution they are happy to sell you). I believe that the more educated we are the less vulnerable we become to wellness scammers and frauds. To that end, this week I want to share a simple screening process. You don’t need to be a qualified expert to make rational decisions about your health. These simple questions will help you filter out quality advice from the bullshit.


Filter 1) Are they selling you something?

Selling isn’t necessarily bad, and quality is worth paying for. Books, coaches, treatments…good ones will usually cost something. BUT, the greater investment someone is asking you to make, the greater the burden of proof that person bears. I’ll download a free e-book based on nothing more than a mild curiosity. But if somebody is asking me to invest my money, time and effort , I definitely want EVIDENCE.


Filter 2) Are they making extraordinary claims?

This program will fix your back pain, give you the six pack you’ve always wanted, stop you from going bald and boost your metabolism…

Actual panaceas are few and far between, but making extraordinary claims is fairly common in the marketing language of the wellness industry. It’s not that extraordinary claims are always wrong. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. 


Filter 3) Do they provide evidence?

Speaking of evidence, anyone making a claim regarding your health should be able to back up that claim with solid evidence. That means scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals with greater importance given to larger studies and reviews that analyze many different studies. 


Filter 4) Is the evidence relevant?

Evidence presented should be directly related to the product or service. For example, imagine somebody is selling you a mattress and they provide a very good study demonstrating that improved sleep is linked with less pain, more energy and improved strength. They may have provided evidence that sleeping better is good for you, but they haven’t shown that the mattress will help you sleep better. They want you to make that assumption yourself.


Filter 5) Does rhetoric eclipse the evidence?

Rhetoric is language designed to convince, but not necessarily to prove. It’s basically marketing language and in a capitalist society, it’s unavoidable. Testimonials, reviews, personal anecdotes, social proofs (like ‘as seen in Forbes’ etc), celebrity endorsements and referencing qualifications and years of expertise… These are all nice to see, but by themselves they are not the basis for a rational decision. Rhetoric is not necessarily bad, but good rhetoric will reinforce strong evidence while bad rhetoric will try to hide the lack thereof.


You can see more about all of these filters in part two of my series on what to do about back pain.

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