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
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
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.
MyPyramid.gov 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
http://urbanlegends.about.com/. 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
- 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 http://missourifamilies.org/quick/nutritionqa/. 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