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Is The Wellness Movement Forcing Young Women Into Unhealthy Habits To Obtain Perfection?

Why is wellness becoming so toxic?

It certainly helps that the topic of wellness is highly visual – easily promotable on social media, billboards, magazine ads and product packaging with overfilled acai bowls, yoga poses on clifftops and overwhelmingly young, attractive Caucasian protagonists. (In Australia, as in the US and UK, white influencers systematically get paid more than influencers from other ethnic backgrounds.)

“In my opinion, I think the wellness industry is getting out of control,” says Dr Andrea Szász, a psychotherapist and program director at South Pacific Private. “It can be dangerous to follow people, let’s say, on social media who are not actually educated or registered with a peak body or qualified to give professional advice.”

And the research backs her up, with a recent survey finding that a whopping 90 per cent of social media influencers are sharing inaccurate health information. Of course, this isn’t just contained to social media.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop (which is valued at $US250 million) has repeatedly been called out for misinformation and false labelling of wellness products – even being described as “exploiting the placebo effect” – and celebs such as Kourtney Kardashian have been called out for pushing unqualified wellness advice.

Who is tackling the wealth of misinformation online?

Luckily there’s a band of fearless health professionals who are trying to curb the trend of misinformation, including Dr Rose Marie Leslie (@drleslie, 903k TikTok followers), a doctor who shares advice on common symptoms, and Dr Mike Varshavski (@doctormike, 1.9m followers), who fact-checks wellness memes and medical TV shows. One of the most controversial, however, is Dr Idrees Mughal (@dr_idz, 1.6m followers), who tackles wellness influencers head on by naming and shaming their health advice and backing it up with meta studies and health lessons. (His sign-off phrase is “class dismissed.”)

“This [misinformation] is only applicable to the wellness industry, and that is because you won’t find it in any other subject matter,” he has said. “You’re not going to see someone who isn’t an engineer make a video about [how] ‘this is the best way to build a skyscraper.’”

Mughal also takes aim at the number of unregulated qualifications in the wellness space by pointing out: “You won’t find a two-week online engineering course to build your own house, but you will find that for nutrition, wellness and gut health.”

This kind of misinformation was highly prevalent during the pandemic years, when the rise in usage of social media platforms (especially TikTok) enabled anti-vaccine influencers to gain traction. The US-based Center for Countering Digital Hate even found that 65 per cent of the anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter was shared by just 12 influencers. Twelve!

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