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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Scams


Food and Health Target for Scares, Scams and Hoaxes

Karma Metzgar, C.F.C.S. Former Northwest Regional Nutrition Specialist, Nodaway County Extension Center, University of Missouri Extension


Pick up a magazine, read your e-mail or tune into the grapevine and you are sure to encounter health information buzz lines. Some of it sounds and looks research-based, some is too good to be true, and other information is down right amazing - why haven’t the researchers discovered that! 

The old saying eat, drink and be merry perhaps needs to be updated to eat, drink and be merry with caution! 

Almost daily we hear about something that is impacting the availability or safety of our food supply. Too often it's related to special interest group concerns rather than solid research. Eventually the producer pays because the supply and demand for the product is out of whack. It's estimated that a scare or scam directly impacts the price and availability of a product for about six weeks - then we've forgotten the issue and are back to our old buying habits. 

Our health and money are also targets for scares. I am frequently asked my opinion of a diet strategy or regimen with a hefty price. has an excellent diet/health plan and it's free. The new Nutrition Facts food label is also based on a healthy diet pattern. It's free too. If you want copies, request through your local University of Missouri Extension Center. The key to a healthy diet is variety, moderation and proportion. 

People with terminal illnesses also are a target for health fraud. Terminal illnesses are golden opportunities to swindle people who are so desperate they'll try anything.

The crucial point is that if people just waste money on expensive, worthless products, it is merely unfortunate; but, if they become ill or die because either the phony "therapy" is dangerous or it prevents them from seeking proper diagnosis and effective treatment, that is tragic. 

So who and what do you believe? 

I think the key is to ask some questions. Is the source of the information reliable? Is the information based on research rather than testimonials or case histories? Is the information associated with a product for sale? Does it sound too good to be true? 

One resource Extension professionals utilize is the web site Urban Legends and Folklore at This is a current clearinghouse of Internet hoaxes, rumors and urban legends. The site is indexed with current and not so current topics that keep resurfacing through the Internet. The site lists the source of the information and the facts related to the topic. It also classifies the information as a hoax, urban legend, rumor or simply junk. 

What’s the difference? Here are the definitions from the web site.

  • Hoax - false, deliberately deceptive information 
  • Urban Legend (UL) - a popularly believed narrative, typically false 
  • Rumor - Anecdotal claims, may be true, false, or in between 
  • Junk - flotsam and jetsam of the Net (new vocabulary for me!)

If you have nutrition related questions, check out the Quick Answers link on Extension’s MissouriFamilies page at This site also has quick answers to many other family related topics like parenting, childcare, personal finance, food safety, health, and housing.







Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009





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