Tag: FTC

HON Code

Fake news makes for headaches for consumers, health communicators

The Federal Trade Commission is shaking its finger at 10 companies using “fake news” websites to promote their products, reports NPR. Companies such as Beony International LLC, in San Diego, made websites with names such as “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts,” and “Health 6 Beat Health News” to promote its acacia berry weight loss products.

Since the beginning of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, many have worried about the quality of online health information. These worries haven’t stopped people from using the Web as a tool to find and disseminate health advice, though. According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than 60 percent of American adults look for health information online, and of Internet users, that number is an even higher 80 percent.

In the mid-1990s, a group of international telemedicine specialists created the Health On the Net Foundation. Look for the HON symbol and you know that site has been vetted by a global body of experts. However, when people can get their health information anywhere, anytime, and not everyone knows to look for the HON symbol, how are health communicators supposed to squeeze their messages into the public’s awareness between all the riff raff?

Do cases such as the fake news sites promoting bogus products increase skepticism about and reactance to all online health messages, even when those messages come from even the credible sources? The web is a powerful tool for communicating to the public, but health communicators should investigate and understand how the bad apples may be spoiling the good ones if they want their messages to be heard and accepted.

One way to battle the effects of the not-so-credible messages is to make media literacy an integral part of school curricula, starting at the grade school level and continuing through the higher education years. All universities and colleges should have a required media literacy class as a prerequisite for life after college in the information age, in my humble opinoin.

What other suggestions do you have for combating fake or unreliable health information that may be causing accidents out there on the information superhighway?

Seeking balance in Digital Health Marketing

Photo credit simplyslimliving.com

Where is the balance between 'good public health' and 'bad pharma money'?

Last week, the consumer protection groups Center for Digital Democracy, U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group)Consumer Watchdog and the World Privacy Forum filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against a number of popular health web sites, alleging unfair and deceptive patient profiling and marketing practices.

At the surface, sites such as QualityHealth, Health Central, and Everyday Health offer useful health information and interactive social support to consumers.  On another level, however, the sites capture visitors’ profile information and search histories, so as to tailor medication advertisements or other sponsored content to the visitors’ health concerns.

This case presents a conundrum for health communication scholars: Is QualityHealth an example of a financially self-sustaining health promotion strategy?  A break from underfunded public health work? Or is this kind of for-profit industry initiative unethical?

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Health claims: Helpful, harmful or neutral?

Food labels and product claims are more complicated than ever; who can consumers trust?

Food and consumer product labels and claims continue to make the news. (You may remember labeling movie theatre popcorn or genetically modified Salmon.)  Two health claims stories from last week have our attention: mouthwash and pomegranate juice.

First, the FDA issued warning letters to three mouthwash manufacturing companies for making false or unproven claims that their products actually prevent gum disease.  Johnson & Johnson, CVS and Walgreen’s each market mouth rinses said to ‘remove plaque above the gum line’ or ‘promote healthy gums’ – effects that have not been proven.

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Weekly News Round-Up


Here are some things we’ve been reading this week. Got something to add? Share it in the comments.