WebMD’s Health Care Social Media Disaster – Read the Fine Print!

Occasionally, my vocation of treating obesity and my avocation of health care social media intersect.

This is one of those moments. This is the story of a health care social media betrayal in which obese children and e-patients are the victims. Nobody died, except medical ethics, good judgment, and trust in doctors. This is WebMD’s Health Care Social Media Disaster.

Big Cereal Comes to DC 5

Recently, WebMD published an “advertorial” from Kellogg’s: "Mums, kids & breakfast: The truth about sugar“ with a brief disclaimer, “This content is from our sponsor. The sponsor has sole editorial control.” The kind of disclaimer a casual visitor might easily overlook. Here are excerpts from the article, meant to convince you that sugary breakfast cereals are nutritious, and that sugar consumption is a healthy option for your children.

Myth #1 :Sugar is always responsible for tooth decay

The truth: Breakfast cereals eaten with milk, even pre-sweetened varieties, do not increase the risk of tooth decay.

Myth #2 : Sugar is bad for you

The truth: A panel of world health experts recently reviewed the scientific evidence and concluded that a high sugar intake is not related to the development of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer.

Myth #3: Some sugars are more nutritious than others

The truth: All sugars provide approximately 4 calories per gram. And despite popular belief, no type of sugar is more nutritious than any other.

Myth #4: Children should eat a lot less sugar than adults

The truth: Children do have different needs to adults, so they have different Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) for sugar. But not as different as you might think.

Because they are active and growing, children are not vastly different to the “average person” used on the front of the pack. In fact, for sugar, it is very similar indeed.

Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) for sugar: Average person – 90g; Children – 85g

Advertisers can claim pretty much anything as long as they can manipulate data. No surprise Big Food is fighting back on the attack on the nutrient value of processed food. The problem is not the advertisers. The problem is WebMD and the trust we want e-patients to have on the internet.

The main tenet of health care social media is to advise e-patients, also known as empowered patients, to seek out reliable and credible medical information, most often on major medical websites, including WebMD. We “soc med” docs are working hard to direct the 88% of patients getting healthcare information off the internet* to these sites. Our good faith and theirs. When a major medical site allows this level of misinformation in advertising, the average person is at serious risk.

Here are the tweets ….

@Appetite4Profit What happens when a medical site sells out to Big Food? Kellogg & WebMD report sugar’s good for you!

@AplusPaz Cigarettes are good for kids too, the nicotine kills bacteria within their stomach.

@MagWrites I guess that now really makes them cereal killers

@YoniFreedhoff Kellogg’s states 360 calories of sugar daily = good 4 kids. That’s 20-30% daily cals!

Obesity expert Dr. Yoni Freedhoff pondered the judgment of advertising authority in his blog, Weighty Matters, “I wonder who the WebMD genius was who decided giving sponsors sole editorial control over content was a good idea?”

I’m figuring it was the person who ate the sugared breakfast cereal, and was cognitively impaired for the rest of the day.

 

(This blog was originally published under the title “Sponsored content on health sites can mislead patients” on KevinMD.com 8-22-2011)

(Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan MD, http://tedeytan.com)

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