Wednesday, 17 April, 2024
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‘Useless product’ marketing campaigns target women

Corporations are co-opting feminist messages around women’s well-being to promote useless health tests and treatments, an analysis by Australian researchers has found, exposing them to unnecessary treatment and harm as a consequence.

The paper describes how these marketing messages echo those historically used to promote harmful products like tobacco and alcohol to women, reports The Guardian, with the researchers writing that as a result, women are being potentially exposed to harm and over-diagnosis through messages encouraging them to “take charge of their health”.

The analysis, published in The BMJ, uses the example of some menstrual tracking apps that claim to diagnose reproductive conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, “promising empowerment through knowledge and control over your body, despite limited evidence of accuracy and benefit”, the analysis said.

“The problem is not with the use of health technologies, tests and treatments per se, as many women benefit greatly and gain improved quality of life from them,” wrote the authors, led by Dr Tessa Copp from the University of Sydney’s school of public health.

“The problem lies in how commercial marketing and advocacy efforts push such interventions to a much larger group of women than is likely to benefit without being explicit about their limitations.”

They also highlight the marketing of the AMH test, which measures levels of anti-müllerian hormone in the blood. The hormone is linked to the number of eggs in a woman’s ovaries, but the test cannot reliably predict a woman’s chances of conceiving.

A senior author of the paper, Dr Brooke Nickel, said the responsibility should not be placed on individual women to navigate these health messages and understand all potential benefits and harms of products, but rather, on companies “that market these health interventions to be clearer about their limitations”, she said.

In October, a report co-authored by the Australasian Menopause Society, the Women’s Health Research Programme at Monash University, and Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, revealed the powerful commercial incentives to “catastrophise” menopause in the minds of women to drive them to buy often useless products to treat it.

Tech companies promising the diagnosis of reproductive conditions, and fertility clinics promoting egg freezing without providing adequate information about the likely outcomes and risks, were other areas where problematic, female-targeted advertising was rife, Nickel said.

“Who doesn’t want to feel empowered and as though they are taking control of their health?” said Dr Karin Hammarberg, from Monash University’s global and women’s health unit.

“But when that is linked to products that are basically flawed, not helpful, and are going to cost you money, then it’s really false advertising.”


BMJ article – Marketing empowerment: how corporations co-opt feminist narratives to promote non-evidence based health interventions (Open access)


The Guardian article – Companies marketing useless health products to women using feminist wellbeing messages (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Reports by experts slam ‘underhand, exploitative’ milk formula marketing


Excessive knee jabs linked to industry’s marketing payouts


Mitigating alternative tobacco-use marketing aimed at the young




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