Why is health quackery alive and well?

Unless you live in the UK, you probably don't know who Gillian McKeith is. I didn't know much about her even though I do watch British television, since she has a show on Channel 4, which I don't get here. Apparently she is famous as the host of a diet show called "You Are What You Eat", bestselling author of diet books, and hawker of herbal pills. She puts a Doctor in front of her name, and she's regarded as a Health Authority. Yet, she is not a medical doctor or even a properly trained and certified nutritionist. Her only health related degree may or may not come via a correspondence course from a non-accredited American college.

Yesterday, this very interesting article in the Guardian explained how Britain's Advertising Standards Authority may be putting a stop to her use of the Doctor in front of her name since it is misleading.

The amazing thing is that "Doctor" Gillian McKeith (it brings to mind Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive saying "'Doctor' Richard Kimball", voice dripping with irony...but I digress) is not at all alone. There are many pseudo-health authorities, in all countries, dispensing advice and information without much actual research to back them up...and they gain a often fanatically loyal following. From downing green algae to coffee colonics, taking tons of supplements to losing weight by 'deep breathing', oddball health claims abound. It's all very reminiscent of the travelling medicine shows and peddlers of yore, that went around selling "miracle elixirs" and the like to a gullible audience. Even though we are all supposed to be literate and better educated than our great-grandparents, the urge to want to believe in quick and easy fixes for our bodies seems to be as strong as ever.

Filed under:  books and media ethics health

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