Social media has become a part of our daily lives, for better (baby giraffe videos) or for worse (fake news and so so so many ads). My friends often ask me to weigh in on whether the nutrition advice that pops into their Facebook feed is legitimate. I don’t blame them for being confused. There is so much conflicting nutrition advice and a lot of what’s out there is misleading or quackery.

Quackery, which sounds like an industrial building ran by Donald Duck, is an actual term that describes a company or an individual that uses inaccurate or false claims to promote the sale of products. Although Facebook has some advertising standards that companies have to adhere to, it’s not going to look into whether the product being advertised is helpful (or harmful). It’s up to us to be smart consumers. To that end, here are some tips for sniffing out quackery:

Here Are 7 Clues to Identify Nutrition Quackery

1. They are Highly Advertised

One quackery trick is to excessively advertise and rely on the consumer’s lack of knowledge. The goal is repetition. The more the public hears or sees something the easier it is for it to be accepted as fact.

 2. Multi-level Marketing

Companies have evolved to take full advantage of social media by using friends and family whom consumers trust to sell or market their products. Tupperware parties made popular in the 1950’s are a classic example of multi-level marketing. The host would invite friends and family over then receive a percentage of the profits from the items sold. The modern-day equivalent would be a celebrity or friend hosting a giveaway or advertising products for sale using a discount code on social media.

 3. Too Good to be True

When the claims sound too good to be true, they probably are. The primary focus of quackery is to have you believe that their product has little to no downside while it is providing every possible advantage.  Try to keep a rational mind and remember there are very few easy fixes to complex issues. Spotting the over exaggerations and downplaying of the associated hazards is not a difficult task once you are aware. They will also avoid mentioning the negative effects of the product, this is a good indication that the source is not reliable.

 4. False Statements About the Relationship Between Food and Health

Fear is a great motivator. This scheme wants you to believe you have no choice but to buy their product. It relies on consumers emotions to sell a product. Most commonly asserting the belief that their product will make you healthier while the alternative is dangerous. Such as, “Apples increase the risk of cancer but the use of our product has been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of cancer!”

5. Disclaimers

An asterisk or disclaimer may be an admission of dishonesty. They do not want to print the truth in bold so they often use this ploy to move the information to an isolated corner in small print. Disclaimers are statements like “These results are not typical” or “these statements are not approved by the FDA”.

6. Anecdotes or Testimonials

At some point, we have all bragged about something new we discovered and loved so much we couldn’t resist sharing it with our friends. Anecdotes are not science though, they are an expression of an individual’s experience. A modern example is when a friend shares their great results from a product on Instagram. These anecdotes can be provided for money which is called testimonial’s and usually is provided by celebrities or athletes.

7. Casting Doubt on Scientists or Healthcare

We all know a family member who doesn’t trust doctors or hospitals. I don’t know why but the general public has a distrust of scientists and professionals in the health field.  Quacks exploit this distrust by misrepresenting professionals motives. The generic question is, “why would they want to fix you when they can keep making money off you?”. By criticizing the experts within the field they are attempting to discredit any scientific evidence from those professionals. There are some good sources online to help combat the spread of disinformation.

Phillip Spears

Phillip Spears

Dietetic Student at Texas State University

My name is Phillip Spears and I am a 33 year old senior at Texas State University majoring in Nutrition and Foods with Dietetics Concentration.

  • I served in the Army from 2004 to 2008 and deployed twice to Iraq.
  • When I transitioned to the civilian life, I had little knowledge about nutrition and stopped exercising which resulted in hypertension and becoming pre-diabetic.
  • My belief is that my journey to a healthier lifestyle gives me a unique ability to empathize with others along their journies.
  • My long-term goal is to start a private practice that will focus on providing nutrition education services to veteran organizations and to veterans that may not go to the VA.