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Wellness aka Snake Oil



Every day sets a new level of bizarreness in the ole US of A. I speak here not about politics (that would be a novel not a blog) but that of the wellness industry.


We have hit an all new high in “alternative facts” when Goop Wellness, Gwyneth Paltrow’s foray into prescribing snake oil is selling “stickers” that will heal your every ailment. The saddest part is not just the selling part but that folks are actually buying this stuff, 10 stickers for $60! If you need some humor in your life I highly recommend Stephen Colbert’s take down of the absurdness of Goop’s “body vibe” magic healing stickers.


It is mind-boggling also to see that the global wellness industry is now a 3.4 Trillion dollar market, (if the statistics are accurate). In this study by SRI International they look at 10 major wellness sectors.


  1. Alternative and complementary medicine
  2. Beauty and anti-aging
  3. Fitness and mind-body
  4. Healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss
  5. Preventative and personalized health
  6. Spa
  7. Thermal and mineral springs
  8. Wellness real estate
  9. Wellness tourism
  10. Workplace wellness


Just looking at one industry in particular healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss stated by the same institute to be $276.5 billion. Then think about the concept that many organizations and researchers state that 90 to 95% of all diets fail. That’s a lot of money going down the drain.


As an individual who works in two of the above sectors, fitness and workplace wellness I see first hand a ton of waste. Attrition rates for fitness centers hover around the 22 to 24%, thus close to a quarter of members drop out. Certainly there will always be membership challenges but if numbers are accurate about 49% of Americans meet the CDC recommended minutes of exercise, so 51% does not. I’m not saying you have to meet those recommendations to be fit it’s just an indication of those involved in exercise.


In workplace wellness, which often has the aura that all is healthy and well, there is also plenty of squander. There are however folks who dare to speak out about the waste, such as Al LewisVik Khanna, and Shana Montrose did in 2014 on Health Affairs. (See quote below)


“Second, there is no clinical evidence to support the conclusion that three pillars of workplace wellness—annual workplace screenings and/or annual checkups for all employees (and sometimes spouses), and incentivized weight loss—are cost-effective.”


For an even more recent look at some “mathematical illusions in wellness” have a read here, Al Lewis’ blog on Fitbit and their calculations. Besides the numbers that don’t add up with Fitbit’s tracker data published by Springbuk all of this points to a larger issue in my mind of hiding behind the wellness curtain, (like the Great Oz).


Sure there is a difference between cost-effective and selling bogus stickers. But really if we think honestly about both, what we’re really talking about is selling folks or companies stuff they don’t need, isn’t effective or is just a waste of money. But that’s the point isn’t it, junk sells.


In my opinion what has happened is that by name only such as wellness or healthy it hoodwinks people into thinking it’s “great” (not to be confused with a certain president here).


Perfect example is Kellogg’s Low-Fat Pop Tarts get a heart healthy check! So a fake food loaded with sugar and junk gets a healthy rating from the American Heart Association. Good marketing, bogus advertising or is does it represent back scratching between researchers and organizations? Your choice.


Why is this stuff important?


Because it is harmful! Bottom line telling individuals (basically lying to them) is not OK. Selling them a sticker to place on their body and it will hydrate you is not OK. We cannot continue to go down this road of snake oil salespeople being the “experts” or having the last word on what is healthy.


While I don’t profess to be an expert at all I do admit I’ve been in the trenches of both fields for a long time, thus witnessed a lot. For sure there have and always will be total scams in all industries. But how much money will be wasted and when will leaders of organizations stop promoting stuff they don’t believe in themselves, know doesn’t work and in many cases might be harmful?


Just stop! (As my Mom used to say when my brother and I were annoying her)


What can we do?


  1. Think critically and read the critics not just the headlines
  2. Dig much deeper when you see the word healthy or wellness
  3. Always follow the money
  4. Be your own fitness and health guru!



Kramer: It’s organic!
Jerry: “Organic? So’s Buddy Hackett.”

— From the show “Seinfeld”





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