Opinion

Cut the crap – brands and their influencers are not nutrition experts

As brands continue to bombard consumers with oversimplified nutritional advice, iris Singapore's Alasdair Gray argues that it's time to let the informed do the talking – not the wellness bloggers

In any given week, you’ll probably encounter a brand offering health advice.

Exclusionary rules encouraging you to cut out sugar, go carb-free, or join team vegan. There will be new – and vague – claims about something being healthy; a previously everyday food having taken off its glasses and emerged from the phone box as a superfood.

But in the pursuit of getting you to pay them some attention, these confusing messages are damaging people’s quality of life, and in extreme cases, reducing their life expectancies.

‘It’s easier for me to do my taxes than figure out how to eat healthily’

Is fat healthy? What about carbs? If sugar is bad, is fruit juice? You’ve heard protein is good, but should you be eating red meat? Should you exercise fasted, or have food beforehand? Is wine good for you?

According to a recent Nielsen survey, 24 per cent of people cited confusion as a large barrier to eating healthily, with the above questions remaining perennially a topic of division – and confusion.

For the average person, all this contradictory information and advice can easily make it tougher to shift those excess pounds. But for many others, shifting a few pounds is the very least of their worries – there are many out there for whom much graver consequences are at stake.

For example, oncologists in Vietnam frequently encounter patients having heard that eating food will feed tumour growth, according to iris research. Yet while this advice is technically true, it ignores the fact that the immune system also needs sustenance to recover.

Without the complete picture, some patients try ‘fasting themselves into recession’ – which tragically reduces their immune system’s ability to recover, leading to potentially fatal outcome.

Uniformed brands are masquerading as nutritional authorities

Would you be confident to give someone dietary advice without knowing their lifestyle habits or medical records? Add to the fact that this advice is not just for one person, but to thousands at once.

Every month, brands and publishers do just that. 

Mass broadcasted communications can’t yet differentiate people on their health status. You can’t segment the overweight from the underweight, the well from the ill, or the active from the inactive.

And while a brand’s communication may not be the origin of those oh-so-many fad diets and advice out there, many do normalise and perpetuate these beliefs in order to sell their products. For them, health is just another pillar in the content strategy. And unless it touches on body image sensitivities, it seems to get a free pass.

Which of these is actually more harmful?

Brands need to be more responsible with health content

For too long, brands have been irresponsibly masquerading as health educators or outsourcing the content to self-appointed bloggers, who are in turn inspired by the likes . Yet, influential does not mean informed.

If health must place in their content strategies, they should focus on connecting their audiences with real authorities. There are plenty of trained nutritionists offering online packages for individual clients. Why not make these more accessible for people via discounts and prizes?

It’s commendable for brands to want to help their audiences to live more healthily, but broadcasting oversimplified messages can have harmful effects. Let the informed do the talking.

Alasdair Gray is a senior planner at iris Singapore

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