After 10 months of copywriting experience exclusively on the topic of health, I feel that it is only fitting to share my thoughts on the industry. Health is a broad field that encompasses a wide range of topics from the fluff pieces telling you that a glass of wine is equivalent to an hour of exercise to modern breakthroughs in gene discovery for ALS. With such vastness, one can only wonder how you can effectively navigate the field of health.
Health has everything to do with the physical and emotional state of the body. Some deign to include matters of spirit and religion into the consideration of health – I tend not to disassociate any factors that can ultimately make a person feel better. I could go the traditional, clichéd route and provide you with a definition, but that definition would be an essay.
The Definition of Health
In my own words…
The pursuit of health is the pursuit of feeling better
Contrary to the voices of the copious viral articles that circulates social media, being healthy is more than eating right, exercising, getting enough rest, and following eight quick tips for the ultimate success. In the case of highly-searched relief for ailments like the common cold or stress, articles are aplenty. With such a spectrum that can be considered in the doctrine of health solutions, there are often articles that portray a truth that is less accurate.
Why Health’s Reputation Suffers
Have you ever read an piece on health then shook your head in disbelief? Perhaps it was shared on a friend’s wall with the best intentions of spreading information. There is an extremely high chance that your friend is not an expert in the field. The internet (and social media) allows for the quick spread of “information” with little or no vetting. Actually, I’m just as guilty as the rest of us
Catchy titles will cause the world to implode
Ok, maybe this is a hyperbole. But, the bottom line is that catchy titles drive traffic. In fact, many copywriters are paid very well for producing words that grab your attention. A title like Smelling Farts can Prevent Cancer and Other Diseases will ultimately drive more people to a site and increase ad revenue. Unfortunately that is the way information spreads around the internet. Most articles look like this one and some even forgo the disclaimer that hints at actual science. The study comments on the development of a compound, AP39, that delivers small amounts of hydrogen sulphide to the mitochondria of cancer cells – a reaction at the cellular level. The research is not conclusive, rather it hints that there is a need for more research into the effect of hydrogen sulphide, not just in cancer cells, but in general.
Dr. Wood, the scientist who performed this study, even stated his frustration on the amount of calls that he receives to appear on random radio shows talking about farts and cancer. I think this example highlights the extremes of what we consider the “science” involved in health.
Correlation vs Causation. Correlation does not guarantee causation.
Credibility and reliability have long been the enemy of pilot studies that look to break into a new discovery. I’m not a scientist and, admittedly, I have very little knowledge of what it takes to get a study published. However, I do understand marketing and the incredible effects of authority. Scientific authority consists of peer-reviewed studies and repeated experiments. From what I gather, this system is severely flawed. Articles can be published and peer-reviewed, but there is no real discovery until the method is tried and tested.
Is there glory in being second place?
I don’t think so.
Other than altruism for the scientific development of mankind, why would any researcher want to repeat a pilot study? If a new study supports the original study’s findings, the credit of the discovery will go to the original scientist. If the new study does not support the original study, it only leads to more questions. Would a scientist not want to pursue their own research instead?
I use the word discovery with great encumbrance, with the knowledge that the fanatic scholar will jump up in arms. It’s not a discovery, the scientist will clamor. After all, there is a rigorous process and debate before any theory can be called a discovery – and theories are constantly disproven.
So, ten months deep, reading hundreds of articles on a number of health topics to fish for threads of truth, what did I find?
- Titles are probably the most important part of an article. Views on a health-related articles are especially dependent on the title. If the reader does not identify with the health concern, they will only open the article if the wording piques their interest. In the absence of a captivating title, even the best researched content will be ignored by the masses.
- Numbers really don’t matter. Statistics are only useful in the right context. A dedicated researcher can find a statistic to support both sides of an argument, so do not place too much reliance on reported numbers.
- There is no easy solution. Health has always and will always be a complex field involving a number of factors and just adding one superfood into your diet will not make you a healthy person. Your health is a combination of a number of sustained changes to your lifestyle to improve your overall well-being.
- Health is individualized. No matter how many blanket statements you encounter, the statements presented may not apply to you. A remedy that works for someone may be entirely ineffective for another. The best way to find a solution is to try it!
- Health may be profit-driven. There has been an increase in the demand and consumption for health-related topics, which has brought an opportunity for organizations to capitalize on this market. While there are many companies that have very applicable solutions for health-related problems, there are also many brands that suggest a solution that will not work.
- Accuracy is not profit-friendly. Scientific studies to back claims made by supplement companies normally cost thousands of dollars, which discourages a solid scientific understanding of things you put into your body in the name of health. An unproven product has no guarantee of bringing in revenue and usually necessitates a high marketing budget to be successful. Consumers rarely dig into scientific claims, relying on the government to control consumer products – a task that is almost impossible. If a product is found to have insufficient information to support a claim it can be removed from market, but a few alterations to the formula takes them outside the eye of the budget-constrained government. Accurate information is not rewarded.
Even with ten months of copywriting experience, I have only scratched the surface of the vast health market. It’s up to you to decide what to believe or try.